Belfast Telegraph

Compensation payout to Omagh mob woman branded 'crazy'

Police and MLA voice outrage at £3,000 for woman in street fracas r Judge wanted to cut her payout but his hands were tied by the law

by chris kilpatrick and alan erwin

THE police union has branded as incredible a £3,000 compensation payout to a woman struck by a baton as a large hostile crowd directed vile abuse at officers.

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

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 who were acting aggressively. She subsequently claimed she was hurt and had suffered emotional distress as a result of the incident.

Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents almost 7,000 officers in Northern Ireland, hit out at the compensation.

"I find this incredible," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "It seems to me the officers acted professionally and proportionately.

"They were outnumbered by what was evidently a hostile crowd and I find it somewhat incredible compensation was paid in those circumstances.

"It sends a very bad signal to police officers who are out there facing the rigours and challenges of policing in Northern Ireland – out there protecting the public – that they cannot win under any circumstances. That's very sad."

The payout was described as "crazy" by Stormont justice committee member and Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott.

The payment coincided with £1,250 compensation paid to a man whose house was raided by police for drugs.

In the case regarding Ms McAleer, Mr Elliott said current legislation regarding such compensation claims must be reviewed in light of the case.

The judge said the award would have been cut by up to 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.

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 was valued at £3,000.

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