Incident Date: Feb 2016
A man who was sanctioned by police after allegedly threatening to hit a woman, has had his penalty overturned following an investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office.
The man received a Discretionary Disposal after a woman told police that he had raised his fist at her during a row, and that this had left her fearing for her safety. The incident happened in Co Armagh in February last year.
However, the man later told a Police Ombudsman investigator that he had not raised his fist and described the incident as “a load of hot air” which had lasted no more than 10 seconds.
He alleged that the investigating officer had not followed proper procedure before administering a Discretionary Disposal in relation to the incident.
He provided a 15-minute long audio recording, made on his mobile phone, of his conversation with police when two officers arrived to discuss the woman’s complaint.
The Police Ombudsman investigator reviewed the recording and interviewed the officers involved. She established that the investigating officer had breached police procedure in a number of ways.
He had administered the Discretionary Disposal without a “clear and reliable admission of guilt”, as is required.
He also failed to caution the man or obtain his consent for the use of the scheme.
In addition, the officer had breached guidelines by using the scheme when there was not enough evidence for a reasonable prospect of a prosecution. The woman had made no formal statement of complaint and had made it clear that she did not wish the matter to go to court.
The Police Ombudsman investigator recommended that the officer should be disciplined for these errors, and also recommended that police should consider overturning the discretionary disposal.
The PSNI has since implemented both recommendations.
Note for editors:
The PSNI has stated that Discretionary Disposal “speeds up the justice process and delivers meaningful and timely outcomes for victims.”
In a response to a Freedom of Information request about the scheme, the PSNI wrote: “Discretion aims to prevent recidivism by dealing swiftly and effectively with offenders using restorative principles and in some case restorative practice i.e. restorative conferences between victim and offender by trained officers. It ensures that offenders are not unnecessarily criminalised for minor crimes.
“Discretionary disposals are recorded against the offender’s offending history – they do not however constitute a formal criminal record for the purposes of employment checks, and are not routinely disclosed in employment checks to Access Northern Ireland.”