How blundering PSNI could have and should have stopped murderer Paul Greatbanks
The murder of Paddy Harkin was one of the most shocking cases in Northern Ireland in recent years – and it could have been prevented if the PSNI had acted against killer Paul Greatbanks sooner.
When the Englishman walked into Strand Road police station in February 2011 drenched in the blood of two men, it wasn't the first time he had appeared on the PSNI's radar.
It will be at least 2026 before Greatbanks is even considered for release after his claw hammer attack that left one victim dead and another brain-damaged and confined to a wheelchair.
The family of murdered Paddy Harkin had hoped life would mean life for his killer. But they walked out of a Belfast court yesterday in tears and shaking with anger, convinced that one day this violent thug will be free to kill again.
Their fears are not without foundation. Just weeks before killing Mr Harkin, Greatbanks had smashed a heavy wooden bar stool into another man's skull. Taxi driver John McLaughlin had been enjoying a pint of beer with friends who were home in Derry for Christmas when, without any provocation, Greatbanks attacked him.
Mr McLauglin reported the assault – and even told the police that Greatbanks was living across the street from their Strand Road HQ.
Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the PSNI failed to investigate this attack – with fatal consequences for the Harkin family.
They remain convinced that if the police had taken the attack on Mr McLaughlin on December 28, 2010 seriously, Paddy Harkin would be alive today.
Mr McLaughlin reported the PSNI's failure to investigate the assault to the Police Ombudsman, who agreed there had been failures.
A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman also revealed that four officers had been disciplined as a result.
After police began the investigation into Mr Harkin's murder, a case was also prepared over the assault on Mr McLaughlin. Greatbanks has since been sentenced to 18 months for this assault.
Mr McLaughlin shares the Harkin family's belief that Greatbanks must never be released from jail.
He said: "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.
"Greatbanks is an evil psychopath and he needs to be locked up for good. This was random, unprovoked and out of the blue. Greatbanks is a law on to himself and should never be allowed out on the streets again."
The police eventually apologised to both the Harkin family and Mr McLaughlin.
"We accept that the standard of our initial investigation fell short of what Mr McLaughlin expected and deserved. We would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to all those affected, particularly the Harkin family, who are still grieving for their son and brother, Paddy," the PSNI said.