A 43-year-old man arrested under the Terrorism Act has failed in a legal bid to challenge the police over what he viewed as 'unlawful detention’.
Sean Dillon made an application to apply for a Judicial Review against the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland - but the application was refused today at Belfast's High Court.
Mr Dillon was arrested on August 5, 2020 under the Terrorism Act 2000, with claims that his arrest was linked to illegal activity in the Co Tyrone area.
Following his arrest, Mr Dillon was taken to Musgrave Serious Crime Suite, where he was interviewed 11 times during a two-day period before being released without charge.
On August 18, 2020, a solicitor acting on behalf of Mr Dillon lodged a complainant with the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI).
The letter alleged Mr Dillon was 'unlawfully detained' under the Terrorism Act, and that during his two days in detention 'no evidence was put to our client, nor was he questioned in relation to any specific allegations’.
It was also contended that Mr Dillon 'had his liberty deprived from him in circumstances where no evidential basis was formed by the PSNI when carrying out the investigation or when questioning our client’.
The Police Ombudsman responded by letter on January 7, 2021 and said that following an investigation, there was no evidence of police misconduct during Mr Dillon's arrest and detention and that 'this complainant has now been closed’.
Mr Dillon was unhappy with the outcome of his complaint and a request was made for clarification on January 13, 2021.
This letter also requested that PONI disclose any evidence that formed part of their investigation into Mr Dillon.
The solicitor wrote a 'reminder' letter to PONI on February 9, 2021, and when there was no reply to this, a pre-action letter was issued alleging an unlawful failure to provide reasons to Mr Dillon.
On March 23, 2021 Mr Dillon received a letter from the Police Ombudsman which again said there was no evidence of police misconduct during his arrest and detention.
The letter also stated that due to existing terrorist-related legislation, PONI 'follow the "neither confirm nor deny" stance used by public authorities in the national security and law enforcement context’.
On April 8, 2021, Mr Dillon issued proceedings seeking leave to judicially review the Police Ombudsman's decision.
After the proceedings were launched, PONI decided further information could be provided regarding the investigation.
A letter issued on May 21, 2021 revealed Mr Dillon was arrested the previous August following police intelligence which suggested he was involved in illegal activity in the Co Tyrone area.
Details of this alleged activity were provided to Mr Dillon in the letter, which also stated that having considered all the evidence obtained which led to the arrest, and having listened to tapes of the police interviews during detention, PONI ruled was no evidence of misconduct.
Mr Dillon continued his legal bid to challenge the Police Ombudsman's decision to quash his complaint.
Citing a need for public confidence in the police as an aspect, his legal team argued the court should not accept the 'late reasons provided' in the letter dated May 21, 2021 but should proceed 'on the basis of the initial inadequate response’.
Mr Justice Colton said that after examining the case, Mr Dillon's arrest was based on "sensitive intelligence material" which suggested why the Police Ombudsman's initial response was 'neither confirm nor deny'.
Saying there was "no suggestion" of conflict between the letters sent by PONI, Mr Justice Colton said "what has occurred is the Ombudsman has accepted that further information could lawfully by provided”.
Mr Justice Colton said Mr Dillon "should be allowed to rely on the contents of the reasons given in the letter of May 21, 2021”.
He concluded by saying: "In that event, the applicant's challenge must fail. Therefore, leave for judicial review in these proceedings is refused."
Speaking following the ruling, Owen Beattie, associate solicitor of KRW Law, said: "Our client was left with no alternative but to issue these proceedings against the Police Ombudsman.
"This challenge should serve as a vehicle for the Ombudsman to review its practices when conducting investigations and producing reports into arrests under the Terrorism Act."