Belfast Telegraph

Woman hit by police baton during Omagh ruckus to receive £3,000 damages

A woman hit by a police baton after joining a hostile crowd subjecting officers to "vile" abuse is to receive £3,000 damages, a High Court judge has ruled.

Although Mr Justice Gillen described Nicola McAleer's drink-fuelled behaviour as unacceptable, he held that the strikes to her leg involved excessive force.

He said the award would have been cut by up to a half on account of Ms McAleer's own actions if the law had permitted him.

The verdict came in an appeal against a County Court decision to dismiss the personal injury claim over the incident in Omagh, Co Tyrone.

Ms McAleer had been out drinking in the town with friends in September 2012 when she emerged from a pub to see a man she knew being arrested and on the ground in handcuffs.

With a crowd standing around shouting and jeering at police, she claimed to have gone over to see what was happening.

Ms McAleer alleged that a female officer hit her twice on the upper thigh, inflicting pain which lasted for weeks and leaving her emotionally affected.

According to the policewoman who used the baton a crowd of up to 20 people had surrounded four officers at the scene.

The court heard they were shouting "Up the 'RA" and "Black b*******".

It was claimed that the plaintiff was among those acting aggressively.

The policewoman accepted she was the only officer to hit people that night but denied having lost control.

Delivering his verdict, Mr Justice Gillen said: "I have no doubt that this was a highly charged incident in which vile abuse was heaped on the police officers who were doing their duty to the best of their ability.

"They were subjected to gross and obvious hostility."

Finding that Ms McAleer had shown aggression by shouting at police, he said there was no good reason for her to have joined the crowd.

"The behaviour of this plaintiff was unacceptable," he said.

However, the judge decided the policewoman used excessive force in not effectively controlling her strikes and limiting them to the lower legs.

"Notwithstanding that I found her much the more impressive of the two witnesses," he said.

Dealing with the issue of any contributory negligence, Mr Justice Gillen explained: "I think it would be just and equitable if the plaintiff's damages could be reduced by up to one-third/one half but I do not believe that the law permits me to do so."

Confirming the level of damages to be paid out, he held that the case is valued at £3,000.

"I therefore reverse the decision of the lower court."

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