Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog won't probe complaints from PSNI officers

By Lisa Smyth

The PSNI watchdog has been criticised for not investigating when one police officer complains about another.

The Police Ombudsman has confirmed that allegations from PSNI personnel are not normally probed by his investigators.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie said he was stunned at the stance, which he branded "nonsensical".

It came to light after the Ombudsman's Office halted an investigation into alleged misconduct by a PSNI officer when it discovered the complainant was also a serving officer.

The PSNI officer explained: "I had made a complaint with the Ombudsman about a failure by police to investigate a crime.

"They had said they would look into my complaint, but during a subsequent conversation with someone from the Ombudsman I mentioned that I was a police officer.

"It was at this stage that they told me they wouldn't progress my complaint any further.

"This is despite the fact that the crime of which I was a victim had nothing to do with the fact that I was a police officer, it was related to something that had happened while I was off duty.

"I couldn't believe that they wouldn't investigate my complaint just because of what I do for a living, it's ridiculous.

"It essentially means that if you are in the police and you are assaulted on a night out, or your house is burgled and you aren't happy with the police investigation, that you don't have the same right to complain as everyone else. We are being denied something that is available to every other person living in Northern Ireland."

However, the PSNI officer told the Belfast Telegraph: "As soon as they discovered I was in the police, I was told I would have to take my complaint to the police.

"It's absurd, we are constantly being told that it is important there is an independent body to assess our conduct, yet, when I have a complaint about a very serious failing by an officer, I am left twisting in the wind."

A spokesman for Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said the fact the organisation does not usually investigate complaints by an off-duty police officer is based on legislation. He said: "The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 defines a complaint as being about the conduct of a police officer which is made by, or on behalf of, a member of the public.

"In certain circumstances, the Police Ombudsman himself can decide to investigate a complaint from a serving police officer, if an allegation of misconduct or criminality is made, and he deems it in the public interest to do so.

"Usually, however, complaints by one police officer against another are investigated by the police."

Mr Beattie, a member of the previous Stormont justice committee, said: "I just can't understand why this is the case. It just seems nonsensical. Why would the Police Ombudsman deny thousands of people the right to their services simply because of what they do for a living?

"If we take the position that we require the Police Ombudsman to act as an impartial and independent body to investigate complaints about the police, why then would you expect a police officer to go to their employer and investigate a complaint if they have one?

"This is the kind of issue that would need to be brought to the attention of the Department of Justice."

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