Belfast Telegraph

Inept probe into Sean Dolan GAA club arson attack is a ‘wake-up call for PSNI’

By Donna Deeney

A damning report into the police investigation of an arson attack at a GAA club in Londonderry will have damaged public confidence in the PSNI, according to Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey.

Senior members of Sean Dolan's GAA club in Creggan raised concerns about the depth of the police investigation into a fire at the club in December 2011 after they noticed suspicious activity on CCTV which was missed by the police.

The club was almost destroyed in the fire which immediately raised suspicions among members that it was arson.

A senior club member told Police Ombudsman investigators that on the morning of the fire he met two police officers and fire service investigators at the scene, who told him there had been no sign of a forced entry and that the fire may have been caused by an electrical fault.

The next day, the club member said he met a constable and fire service investigators, who told him they were almost certain the fire had been caused by an electrical fault and that there was no indication of a crime.

The club member said this police officer contacted him later that day after having watched the footage from the CCTV cameras in the clubhouse and reiterated his view that the premises had not been deliberately set on fire.

The police later issued a press release stating that the cause of the fire was not suspicious.

A Police Ombudsman’s report into the police handling has heavily criticised police failure to conduct door-to-door inquiries, check the club perimeter, notice a dislodged roof tile or fail to notice activity recorded on the club's CCTV.

Five officers will now be disciplined.

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire recommended that a detective sergeant and a constable be disciplined for their failure to investigate the fire properly and that a duty sergeant and two detective inspectors also face discipline for their failure to supervise and guide the investigation.

The disciplinary action is believed to take the form of retraining.

Mr Ramsey, who welcomed the Police Ombudsman's report, said: “I hope clear lessons will have been learned by the PSNI.

“Those involved in the initial investigation made some very basic errors, which is not only astonishing but completely unacceptable.

“The catalogue of errors in this instance should serve as a stark reminder for the PSNI that if public confidence in policing is to strengthen, officers must do their jobs rigorously at all times. “

Shortly after the fire, the police ruled the cause was not malicious and returned CCTV footage to club members who then viewed it for themselves.

Less than five minutes into the tape, shadowy figures can be seen outside the entrance to the club along with images of flashes which prompted the club members to contact Sinn Fein and go back to the police who later declared the fire had in fact been started deliberately.

Among those who took their concerns to the police in 2011 was Derry City councillor Kevin Campbell.

He too welcomed the Police Ombudsman's findings.

He said: “From the outset we were clear that we believed this was malicious.

“That was supported within days after we raised concerns with senior police officers.

“This report from the Police Ombudsman has vindicated that position.

“It highlights the accountability measures that exist to hold the PSNI to account when policing falls short of the required standard.

“I welcome this report and that the Ombudsman has recommended that appropriate action be taken to address it and to ensure it does not happen again.”

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