Published Date: 19.01.2017
The Police Ombudsman has recommended changes to police procedures after a sum of money and a quantity of drugs went missing from a police storeroom.
The Chief Constable asked the Police Ombudsman to conduct a an independent investigation after a small amount of herbal cannabis and £195 in cash went missing from a Co. Antrim police station after being seized during a house search in July 2014.
A member of police staff realised the items were missing in April 2015 when he accessed the secure locker in which they had been kept in order to log the items on a police computer system.
Other items seized in connection with the same case were still in the locker, including other amounts of cannabis, heating lamps, shades, piping and power packs.
Police Ombudsman investigators obtained police documentation and interviewed the two officers recorded as having had access to the exhibits.
One officer said the items had never left her possession until she handed the key of the locker to the officer investigating the case.
Police Ombudsman recommended more secure procedures governing access to secure storage areas.
The investigating officer confirmed he had received the key and said he had at one stage removed three items from the locker as they were required for a suspect interview. These items did not include the missing exhibits, and each was returned to the locker afterwards.
He pointed out, however, that civilian members of police staff would also have had access to the secure locker.
In fact, Police Ombudsman investigators found that there were no procedures in place to record who had accessed keys for the exhibit store, so that potentially any police officer or civilian member of staff might have accessed the locker in question.
As a result, the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, made a number of recommendations to the PSNI for tightening up procedures around the storage of seized exhibits.
These included an out/in booking process for exhibit store keys, better logging of exhibits to more quickly identify discrepancies, and the removal of duplicate keys to a more secure remote location.
The PSNI was also advised that the Police Ombudsman did not have the legal remit to investigate the civilian police employees who might have accessed the storeroom as part of their duties, so that they could take whatever further action was deemed necessary.