Four police officers have been disciplined after they failed to investigate a vicious assault by a man who then went on to kill one man and maim another, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
An assault complaint was made about Paul Greatbanks two months before he went on to murder Paddy Harkin and leave his friend Paul Mythen fighting for his life.
This week Greatbanks pleaded guilty to the murder of Mr Harkin in Londonderry on February 2011, but before that horrific killing he carried out a random and unprovoked attack on another man.
Taxi driver John McLaughlin was enjoying a few beers with two friends when without provocation Greatbanks lifted a bar stool and slammed it into his skull.
Despite reporting the assault to police the following day, when he also told them that Greatbanks lived in flats beside Strand Road station, Mr McLaughlin said he heard nothing further until after the killer walked into the police station drenched in blood and said he had murdered two men.
Today we can reveal that the Police Ombudsman found failures in the way police investigated the attack on Mr McLaughlin.
A spokesman said: "The Police Ombudsman received a complaint that police had failed to properly investigate an incident which happened in Derry/Londonderry on 28 December 2010.
"The Police Ombudsman's investigation uncovered failures in the way the case had been progressed and supervised and four officers have been disciplined as a result."
Mr Harkin's brothers John and Raymond said they were yesterday devastated to learn this and believe the attack on their brother may have been prevented.
John Harkin said: "This is shocking, and leaves us wondering if perhaps Paddy might still have been alive if the police had properly investigated the attack on John McLaughlin.
"We will never know and now we will always wonder, as if we hadn't enough to deal with."
Mr McLaughlin said he is convinced that if the police had pursued the assault on him, Greatbanks may not have carried out the attack on Mr Harkin and Mr Mythen.
He said: "I was nearly sick when I opened the paper and read about what Greatbanks did to Paddy Harkin and Paul Mythen because I felt that if the police had taken the attack on me seriously then that attack might not have happened and Paddy could still be alive.
"I felt guilty myself for not having pushed it and I still feel bad, but at the end of the day the police need to accept some responsibility.
"It was only after Greatbanks murdered Paddy that the police got in touch with me – two months after he attacked me – and they then took seriously what had happened to me.
"By this stage the case was in the hands of the CID and to be fair to them they did push it, but I was disgusted they didn't bother doing anything before that.
"I told the police everything at the time. I even told them where they could find Greatbanks.
"I said he is a big giant English man who lives in the flats in Bayview Terrace which is practically next door to the Strand Road police station, so he would not have been hard for them to find, but they didn't bother.
"I felt so disgusted at the police and their failure to take seriously what I had told them and I let them know that."
A case against Greatbanks for the assault was eventually prepared and when it went to court a jury found him guilty and he is awaiting sentencing for that offence.
Mr McLaughlin told how the attack took place when he was out for a drink with two friends.
"We were in the bar and ordered our drinks and I noticed Greatbanks sitting at a table on his own so I asked him if it was okay for us to sit at the table too and he agreed," he said.
"I didn't know him at all but when he spoke I noticed he had an English accent so I asked what part he was from and he said Tottenham which was where my friend was living.
"It was a bit of polite conversation that's all, then my two friends and me just carried on with our evening.
"Greatbanks had a pint and a hot whiskey in front of him and he drank both very fast and then stood up.
"He grabbed the wooden stool and I thought he was pushing it back so he could get out but he lifted it above his head and smashed it as hard as he could into my head, busting open my skull and breaking two of my fingers so badly I needed an operation on one to try and fix it.
"This was random, unprovoked and out of the blue. Greatbanks is a law unto himself and should never be allowed out on the streets again."
When contacted a spokeswoman for the PSNI said: "It would be inappropriate for us to comment until after sentencing has taken place."
A horrific murder, a second funeral and the nightmare that just won't go away
By Donna Deeney
The case of one of the bloodiest and most brutal killings in the history of Londonderry may be almost at an end, but it is far from over for Mr Harkin's grieving family.
Now they have to prepare to lay him to rest once they get the rest of his body, including his head, returned to them by the forensic services.
In a gruesome twist, body parts had been retained in the event of a trial, but with Greatbanks' guilty plea they can now be returned to the family, which has already held one funeral and will now have to hold another.
Greatbanks walked into Strand Road Police station on February 20, 2011 dripping in blood and told police he had killed his two neighbours, believing at the time that Mr Mythen was also dead.
This week in Laganside Court, Paddy Harkin's brothers John and Raymond watched as Greatbanks pleaded guilty, but showed no remorse.
John and Raymond said it took all their strength and energy not to vent their anger at Greatbanks in court.
Both men are still visibly extremely upset and say that despite the fact that the case is drawing to a close, their nightmare persists.
John said: "I wish this was over and we could begin to grieve for Paddy, but we can't because we didn't get any closure and we are still tortured with questions that keep us up at night.
"Greatbanks is pure evil, he has no soul and just because he pleaded guilty doesn't mean he is sorry.
"He has no remorse, if he did he would tell us why he did what he did to Paddy and Paul.
"He has never even told the police why and we don't know what if anything started it but I know it would not have been anything Paddy did.
"Sitting in court was as bad as the day Paddy died. This has brought it all back up again although it is always at the back of your mind constantly.
"Everybody loved him, he was the kindest, softest-hearted man you could meet.
"Once he passed a homeless man in the street and asked him what size shoes he wore and the man told him size 7. A wee while later Paddy arrived back with the man and gave him a pair of shoes – that's the way he was, just so good.
"Paddy always looked out for Paul Mythen too and I pray for that poor man every day of my life. He has been left in a really bad way by Greatbanks."
It is just over two years since Paddy was murdered and in the days after the incident the Harkin family prepared for the funeral which took place in St Mary's Church in Creggan. But now because of the case, the family face this ordeal again.
John explained: "Because of the horrific injuries to Paddy the police have had parts of his body, held by the forensic team, until after the trial and they include his head.
"We will have to bury the rest of Paddy once his remains are released back to us and that has been one of the most difficult aspects of this nightmare.
"We were never able to talk about this before and that is hard information to have to keep to yourself. For us Paddy hasn't been laid to rest yet. He is still not at peace."
Paddy Harkin was from a large family of six boys and six girls but it was to John that the police officers came with the dreadful news that Paddy had died and that his death was particularly horrific.
John recalled: "I will never forget the police coming to tell me but in a way I knew Greatbanks did it. I never liked him and we all tried to get Paddy to leave those flats.
"Once I was told, I somehow rang the rest but we weren't allowed into the flat to see Paddy.
"Weeks after they took the police tape down it still was tough. The wooden floor where Paddy fell had been cut and removed by police. The blood must have been everywhere because even in the bathroom which was at the far end of the hall we saw blood."
Little is known about Paul Greatbanks in Derry and neither John nor Raymond can shed any light as to how or why he came to the city from England.
Paul continued: "All we know about him is that he arrived at the flats after our Paddy had moved there, which was about three years before he died.
"He lived in the flat above Paddy and came down to his flat every morning. In fact he was there that morning when I arrived, having coffee.
"I never liked him, he made me uneasy. I just had a feeling he was evil.
"When I arrived he got up and left. Paddy wouldn't turn anybody away but I do know he was afraid of Greatbanks.
"I remember one time he accused our Paddy of stealing his post and he nearly went mad.
"Greatbanks needs to be locked up for ever, he must never get out. That man is capable of anything."