Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Drink drive police officer appeals dismissal

Lawyers for a Northern Ireland police officer forced to quit the force after being caught drink driving yesterday urged a judge to overturn the sanction imposed.

They claimed no discretion was shown when disciplining former Constable Paul Arkins following his conviction for being over the legal limit.

Mr Arkins, of Cesnor Park in Carrickfergus, was required to resign by a police misconduct panel in March 2007 – a decision later upheld at an appeals tribunal.

But at a High Court judicial review hearing his barrister, John Coyle, questioned whether any of the aggravating factors listed under PSNI guidelines existed in this case.

These include committing the offence on duty and attempting to avoid arrest or leave the scene.

With Mr Arkins being off duty when he was detected near his home in August 2006, his lawyers claimed the only ambiguity was in the aggravating factor of a particularly high alcohol reading.

He was recorded as having 67 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath – 32 microgrammes over the legal limit.

According to instructions issued to police officers, a lesser punishment than dismissal or being invited to resign will only be imposed if none of the aggravating factors exist and there are exceptional circumstances.

Mr Coyle claimed the decision by his client – a Catholic – to join what was a mainly Protestant force, and his service over more than 15 years should have counted for more.

He said: “It may be if one looks at the background, Mr Arkins joined the police service when persons from a Roman Catholic background were less likely to do so.

“He joined at a time when such service from persons of his background would have been highly valued.” The barrister added: “What is said to be an absence of exceptional circumstances, whether they are or not, the refusal to consider them in any systematic way demonstrates a methodology that is indicative of a closed mind.”

But Neasa Murnaghan, for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, argued that Mr Arkins was caught soon after police chiefs had issued warnings to all officers.

She said: “The judgment issued by the tribunal, where they consider aggravating factors in that particular incident, is this offence occurred within weeks of the general order and email circular sent to all members of the force. They consider that did aggravate the offence.”

Mrs Murnaghan insisted there was no medical emergency that led to Mr Arkins drink driving.

“Consideration of what the tribunal might have done if he had been trying to foil some type of crime or trying to effect some greater good really is of little good,” she added.

“No matter what way you look at it, the exceptional circumstances just were not there.”

After hearing both sides, Mr Justice Weathersup said he would study the papers before delivering judgment at a later date.

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