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Police may be disciplined over lack of action on south Belfast raid pictures

By Deborah McAleese

Published 02/05/2015

A picture of a suspected burglar in south Belfast taken by writer Malachi O’Doherty when he was out for a walk. Police are now examining the pictures as evidence
A picture of a suspected burglar in south Belfast taken by writer Malachi O’Doherty when he was out for a walk. Police are now examining the pictures as evidence

Police officers who failed to follow up on photographic evidence of a burglar fleeing a crime scene in Belfast are facing disciplinary action, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Chief Constable George Hamilton has admitted to the Policing Board that the police response to the break-in last month "falls below the standards we expect".

Officers probing the burglary at an apartment in south Belfast were offered photographs of the suspect as he ran from the scene. They were snapped by writer Malachi O'Doherty who was out for a walk at the time.

It took police almost a week to finally collect the vital photographic evidence - but only after the Belfast Telegraph contacted them to ask why they had not requested them.

The Chief Constable discussed the events with the Policing Board on Thursday and said disciplinary action was being considered.

Mr Hamilton said that the officer who was offered the photographs should have followed up and secured copies. He added that the photographs now formed part of the police investigation.

Officers received a report of an attempted burglary at Stranmillis Reach in Belfast shortly before 6pm on April 4.

As they conducted door-to-door inquiries Mr O'Doherty approached one of the officers and said that he had been on the other side of the river when he heard the burglar alarm and took a series of photographs. He showed the pictures to the officer via the LCD screen on his camera.

Mr Hamilton said the officer recorded a description of the male from the photographs, which both he and Mr O'Doherty agreed were not the best quality. Mr O'Doherty gave the officer his contact details and consented to police following up with him if copies of the photographs were needed.

"The investigating officer updated police systems in relation to his actions at the scene, but unfortunately omitted to include details of the photographs. The photographs have now been obtained and form part of the investigation," said Mr Hamilton.

He added: "Disciplinary action is being considered. We accept that this falls below the standards we expect. The officers should have followed up with Mr O'Doherty and secured copies of the photographs."

The Chief Constable also said that Superintendent Darrin Jones, from Belfast City District Command Unit, met Mr O'Doherty and "apologised for the breakdown in our service".

Mr Hamilton also referred to another case highlighted by the Belfast Telegraph last month. A former policeman told this paper how two months after a creeper burglar was captured on CCTV camera outside his home, officers had still failed to act.

The retired officer gave the PSNI CCTV footage of a man in south Belfast trying to enter his home, his car and a number of neighbours' properties in February. Despite a neighbourhood officer claiming to recognise the culprit as a prolific offender, police have still failed to arrest him for questioning.

Crime rates in Northern Ireland rose by over 3% last year, with 105,234 recorded crimes.

Just over a quarter of crimes were resolved.

Domestic burglaries are one of the biggest problems for all policing districts in Northern Ireland, with more than 5,800 recorded in the past year.

But less than 9% of these resulted in police charges, cautions or discretionary disposals.

Background

Writer Malachi O'Doherty took photographs when he heard a burglar alarm and spotted a suspected burglar fleeing from a block of apartments. He offered police the images to assist in their investigations. However, police failed to follow up on the photographic evidence until contacted by the Belfast Telegraph almost one week later. The photographs now form part of their investigations.

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