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Family slams police failure to tell doctor about tragic Mairead McCallion's head injury

By Cate McCurry

Published 24/06/2016

Mairead McCallion, who died in February 2014
Mairead McCallion, who died in February 2014
Omagh police station
Mairead’s sister Patricia O’Brien

The sister of a woman who died after suffering a brain injury has accused police of missing vital opportunities to save her life after they failed to seek medical attention despite knowing her head had been hit against a wall during an assault.

Following a Police Ombudsman report, two PSNI officers were disciplined over their failure to alert colleagues and the PSNI doctor that Mairead McCallion had sustained a head injury.

The Co Tyrone woman was taken into custody after she was found hurt at a house in Castleview Court, Omagh, in February 2014 after her partner, Noel Knox, allegedly assaulted her.

She was taken to hospital hours later after being sick in the back of a police car, but died the next day.

Police had found Mairead standing in a garden after they were called to the home.

She told one of the officers that her partner had grabbed her by the hair, struck her head against a wall and then thrown her outside into the garden.

Another officer was also at the scene when she reported the alleged assault.

Mairead, who had been drinking, was examined by the police doctor who later said he was not aware that she had suffered a head injury.

A short time later, she was put into a police car and was to be taken to a friend's house. However, after she was sick inside the vehicle, the officers called for an ambulance.

Mairead's sister, Patricia O'Brien, said she found it hard to accept how police "failed her sister so badly" at such a vulnerable moment and added she hoped lessons had been learned.

"We were very shocked that the report came back with findings that are so alarming in how police officers handled my sister," she explained. "We had been quite naive... we never expected it to uncover such shortcomings on their part.

"It's very difficult to accept they failed her so badly at a time when she was very vulnerable, and we are left wondering - and we always will - if they had followed the correct procedures, would she be alive today? Certainly she would have been in with a chance to live."

The Ombudsman's report came two years after the collapse of a case against Knox, who was charged with Mairead's murder.

The Public Prosecution Service said it dropped the charge because the evidence did not meet the test for prosecution.

Mrs O'Brien said the latest revelation was another blow to the family. "We feel we have been let down and we feel Mairead has been let down too, but we will continue in our quest to get justice for Mairead," she added.

In his report, Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said it was clear the officers who knew the woman had sustained a head injury should have informed the police doctor and colleagues.

"It was inappropriate the officers put the onus on the woman to pass on details of her injuries in an unfamiliar setting to an unfamiliar doctor, especially in light of the fact she was apparently intoxicated," he added.

"Head injuries can cause symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication, and as the woman had been drinking, it was particularly important that the doctor was informed about the head injury."

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