Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

PSNI officers who dumped incapacitated woman on Derry road 'repositioned', say police

Video footage showing the police moving the incapacitated woman to the bus lane
Video footage showing the police moving the incapacitated woman to the bus lane
Video footage showing the incapacitated woman in the bus lane
One of the two police officers goes back to his car after moving the woman from the road to the bus lane

Two police officers who appeared to abandon a vulnerable woman on a busy road have been repositioned to duties that will won't bring them into contact with the public, the PSNI has said.

Video footage posted online showed officers leaving an incapacitated woman in a bus lane.

The officers then drove away - leaving the woman just feet from passing traffic.

The woman was named as 23-year-old Brigid Mongan.

On Thursday night, the PSNI released a statement, which said two officers had now been moved to positions "that will not bring them into direct contact with the public".

"PONI [Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland] has recommended that the PSNI consider the repositioning of officers involved in the incident at John Street, Derry on 17/03/14.

"As a consequence two officers will be repositioned to duties that will not bring them into direct contact with the public."

It continued to say interim Deputy Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said the "repositioning was without any prejudice to the officers or the continuing investigation by PONI".

"The decision to reposition the officers will be reviewed at the conclusion of the PONI investigation," it said.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton had told the Belfast Telegraph he was shocked when shown the film, admitting it seriously undermined public confidence in the PSNI.

He personally apologised to Ms Mongan for the police officers' failure to protect her during the St Patrick's Day incident at John Street in Londonderry.

It's understood Ms Mongan was heavily intoxicated and, minutes earlier, had been the victim of an assault by a man.

STORY SO FAR

The 50-second-long mobile phone footage shows three officers at John Street in Derry on St Patrick's Day. Two escort the stricken woman from the middle of the busy road. But rather than help her to the safety of a footpath just feet away they leave her in a bus lane. All three officers get back into their vehicle and drive off, leaving the woman there.

Area a haven for street drinkers, but they are human beings too, writes Donna Deeney

John Street is one of the gateways into Londonderry city centre, but it is a thoroughfare that sees very little pedestrian traffic, apart from the residents of Damien House hostel.

This week John Street was the backdrop to a video which showed PSNI officers apparently abandoning a vulnerable woman, leaving her lying in a bus lane before returning to their car and driving off.

These shocking few seconds of video footage have gone viral on the internet, prompting angry reactions from many who have seen it.

The woman featured in the video was yesterday back on John Street. She is 23-year-old Brigid Mongan, a member of the Travelling community.

Anyone who knows John Street will be aware that it is a place frequented by Derry's largely forgotten collection of street drinkers, drawn there perhaps because it is also where Foyle Haven is located.

Foyle Haven was set up in 2001 by a number of dedicated people led by a former RUC officer Peter Sheehy, now deceased, and a nun, Sister Catherine, who wanted to help the street drinkers.

This building really is a haven for those street drinkers, who live on the margins of society.

It is here where they can get a hot meal, get washed and enjoy a few hours recreation.

Ms Mongan is a frequent visitor to the establishment.

Karl Hargan is the manager of an off-licence which fronts the bus lane where the incident happened.

He was shocked by what he saw in the video.

Mr Hargan was on duty in the shop on Monday, St Patrick's Day, and not unexpectedly business was brisk. Among those who came into the shop was the partner of the woman in the video.

But instead of making a purchase, he asked Mr Hargan for help because the pair, whose relationship has been described as "volatile", were having a spat.

Mr Hargan described what unfolded: "He asked me for an exclusion order because the two of them were fighting and he wanted her to leave him and I told him he was in the off-licence. Just then, she came in and the two of them started to fight and she hit her head against the door and fell to the floor unconscious.

"I went into Foyle Haven to get some help and one of the staff came back to the shop with me. By the time we got back, he was in a bad state and she was still knocked out.

"We rang the police.

"She eventually came round and was looking for him.

"When the police arrived they arrested him and put him in the back of their car, but she then ran out and tried to get into the car to him. The police were trying to stop her from getting into the car when she lay down on the road."

Mr Hargan, who has worked in the off-licence for a number of years, has witnessed the dynamics of the couple's relationship, which switches from aggression to compatibility many times over the course of a day.

He continued: "I have known both of them for a fair while.

"They are in and out of here all the time. In fact, they were both in here a short time ago, completely unaware of this entire situation. She has been around John Street for years, even though she is relatively young. But despite her young years she has the head of an older woman. She can normally handle herself well."

There is no doubting how precarious life is as a street drinker, and while this video has sparked a range of reactions from the wider public, yesterday one of her friends from John Street sent a stark message when he said: "We are all alcoholics, but that doesn't mean you can put us down."

Comment: Some people can't be helped, but that is just not an excuse, writes Malachi O'Doherty

The silent voices of the video make it more shocking. There is no access to the reasoning of the police, when they carried a woman who was barely conscious and set her down on a bus lane.

One might imagine that they thought she would come to no harm, that she was a hard case, that there was no point taking trouble over. One might imagine all sorts of things.

There is no indication that the police were under intense pressure. They were not being attacked. There is nothing frenzied or urgent about the manner in which they carried her and set her down.

But then, we don't know.

Perhaps they thought someone else would come along and look after her.

The video shows two people walking past and doing nothing to help her.

The traffic seems to slow down, but no one stops.

Maybe, just seconds after the video ends, she did get help. Maybe she got up and danced a jig. Maybe she lay there on the cold wet road for hours.

You can't tell from the video whether she lived or died.

Presumably she didn't die or we'd have heard about it.

Why did they leave her on a bus lane and not on the footpath? Would she not have been safer there?

But then why did they not call an ambulance for her or take her with them in their car to the station?

Well, they wouldn't want her vomiting on the seat, and maybe they didn't want to face the paperwork.

But does it not say something about the remoteness of the police from the community if they couldn't think of anybody they could turn to for help, someone who would have sat with her until she recovered consciousness, or waited with her until some other form of professional intervention, aside from policing, was possible?

Okay, we all know what a nuisance a drunk can be. We know they don't often change. This woman was not going to sober up in a moment and turn into a civil citizen. She may be past expecting to be treated any better anyway.

The assumption is that she was drunk. The police must be sick of drunk people. There they are in their flak jackets looking like genuine crime fighters, and what lands on their lap but a floppy woman who needs nursing?

Maybe they thought they were doing her a favour by not putting the cuffs on her and taking her in. Maybe they knew her. Maybe they knew her so well that they could predict her behaviour, were sick listening to her and found it easy to brush her off.

One might easily imagine how a police officer would react to the tedium of drunken interference.

Some people can't be helped. But that excuses nothing.

That woman was laid down on cold wet Tarmac where she could have died, whether by vomiting if she was drunk, or by the dampness creeping into her bones and lungs. She was in a bus lane where another driver not seeing her could have driven over her. There were cars parked near her that might have reversed onto her.

And two police officers moved her to the side of the road as if she was an overcoat that had fallen out of someone's car, to leave her by the kerb where someone who cares – if there is anyone who cares – would find her later.

And what they'll be thinking today perhaps is that there was a time when you could get away with that, when there weren't cameras pointing at you everywhere you went, when you weren't under the surveillance of the nosy and the belligerent.

As if a peeler hadn't enough to worry about.

"Well below the standards we expect from our officers," was how Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton described the behaviour of the two police officers.

But what would they have faced back at the station if they had either brought her in or spent the next hour just sitting with her to be sure she was okay? Endorsement from above for a job well done? Maybe.

 

Further reading

PSNI chief slams officers who dumped woman in street

Area a haven for street drinkers, but they are human beings too  

 

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