Belfast Telegraph

Eight police disciplined after failures in suicidal man case

By Chris Kilpatrick

Eight police officers have been disciplined for a catalogue of failures during the search for a suicidal man who was later struck by a train and killed.

Jonathan Magee (29) died after he walked in front of the train at Knockmore Bridge near Lisburn in January 2011.

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said the police response to Mr Magee's disappearance was inadequate, lacked communication between the officers involved, and largely ignored procedures.

The officers disciplined are two inspectors, three sergeants and three constables.

"Although they were told Jonathan was at high risk and suicidal, it took police almost seven hours to formally make this assessment themselves and then having done so, they largely ignored it," Dr Maguire said.

"Minimal inquiries were conducted into Jonathan's whereabouts in the last few hours of his life. A number of opportunities to find him and return him to the hospital were missed."

On the day prior to his death, Mr Magee's sister contacted police to say she was deeply concerned for her sibling. Police visited her and called with hospitals across Belfast to circulate his description.

That afternoon, Mr Magee contacted police to say he was at Cavehill Park and had self-harmed.

Officers went to the park and arranged for an ambulance to take him to City Hospital. They stayed with Mr Magee for a time until they were informed staff intended to detain him.

Shortly after 1am the following morning, a nurse contacted police to say Mr Magee had walked out of the hospital and was standing outside.

The officer who took the call circulated Mr Magee's details to police in the area but did not link this to the previous incidents, did not send a police vehicle to get him and did not initiate any proactive inquiries to find him, the Ombudsman said.

At around 3.30am, police officers attending the City Hospital on another matter were approached by hospital staff about Mr Magee, who they described as suicidal.

This information was related back to PSNI's Belfast Control Room and police later visited several addresses, but did not check Mr Magee's home properly.

Not until shortly after 11am, more than nine hours after they had received the call from the nurse, did police formally assess and record Mr Magee as being at high risk, the inquiry found.

Dr Maguire described the length of time it took the police to make this assessment as an unacceptable, significant failure.

Police made contact by phone with Mr Magee at noon. He said he was in Lisburn and did not want to meet police but suggested they call him back at 6pm.

The officer who took the call did not inform the duty inspector of its contents, which would have allowed him to make a fresh assessment of the situation, Dr Maguire said.

"Instead, as a result of this phone call, police decided Jonathan was no longer at a high risk. This was a mistake: a phone call was not sufficient grounds to make such a decision," he added.

At 5.15pm police received a report that a man, subsequently confirmed to be Mr Magee, had been hit by a train.

PSNI Superintendent Mark McEwan said: "On behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland I apologise unreservedly to the family of Jonathan Magee for the police failings in this case and how it was investigated.

"This is a profoundly difficult time for Mr Magee's family. Not only have they suffered the loss of a loved one but they have had to endure the additional trauma of the subsequent investigation into his death."

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"This report is significant and challenging for the PSNI and one which we take very seriously. In order to reassure the public I want to make it clear that we have already implemented a number of the recommendations made by the Ombudsman. He recommended that a total of eight police officers be given a disciplinary sanction – this has now been implemented." Superintendent Mark McEwan

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