Belfast Telegraph

Harry Holland murder: Officer disciplined over 999 call response

By Claire Williamson

A police officer has been disciplined after an Ombudsman report found that the PSNI's response to a 999 call less than two hours before Belfast man Harry Holland was murdered was "inadequate".

Mr Holland (65) was stabbed in the head near his Norfolk Drive home following a confrontation with a group of teenagers in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast shortly before midnight on September 11 2007.  He died a short time later in hospital.

Stephen McKee from Ballymurphy Road was convicted of the murder in 2009 and jailed for a minimum of 12 years for the brutal attack.

McKee was just 16 when he, his 15-year-old sister Niamh and their friend Patrick Crossan from Willowbank Gardens attacked Mr Holland as he was getting out of his van near his home in the Norfolk Drive area of west Belfast in September 2007.

During the trio's court hearing in 2009 Patrick Crossan was sentenced to four years for attempted affray and having an offensive weapon. He has been in and out of prison since his release several years ago for his part in Mr Holland's murder. Niamh McKee escaped prison. She was placed on probation for two years.

Mr Holland, a popular, family-orientated businessman, had tried to reason with the drink and drug-fuelled youths, telling them: "I'm an old age pensioner, I'm too old for this, we don't want any hassle, calm down".

But as he tried to get away from them they attacked him and McKee stabbed him in the head with a screwdriver.

The father-of-four was left to die on the street outside his home.

The Police Ombudsman investigation followed a complaint from a member of Mr Holland’s family and a letter from the Coroner which expressed concerns about the police response to three incidents in the days and hours prior to the attack.

These focused on perceived police inaction concerning McKee in relation to the third incident.

At 10.05pm a woman made a 999 call to say she had been abused by a group of teenagers, one of whom was identified as McKee, and had been chased with a knife.

The woman said she was now at a friend’s house. The officer who received the call recorded that a ‘priority’ response was needed. 

It was then assigned to another officer who had the descriptions of the teenagers circulated and the call re-categorised as needing a ‘normal’ response.

The Police Ombudsman has taken the view that this was wrong: “Police policy is that any call which reports violence has been threatened, likely to happen or is happening should get an emergency response. This did not happen.

"This was a significant failing and fell short of the commitment police had given to the community a matter of hours earlier,” said Dr Maguire.

The police officer who had the 999 call ‘re-categorised’ has been disciplined.

Following the report Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey has written to the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton.

The West Belfast MP was speaking after meeting with the family of Harry Holland who raised their concern over emergency response times.

Mr Maskey said: "On the day Harry Holland was murdered the Upper Springfield Community Safety Forum and the PSNI met, during which concerns were raised about a gang in the area.

“The Safety Forum was assured by the police that they would react with urgency if members of the public reported the gang.

“However, on the night of Harry’s murder two emergency calls were made to the police service at 10.05pm and 11.17pm, both calls mentioned that an armed and dangerous gang were in the area threatening people.

“The first call was downgraded to non-emergency status, a crew did go out for the second call. However questions have been raised over the thoroughness of their search.

“In his report the Ombudsman found that the police failed to adequately respond to a 999 call made on the night that Harry Holland was murdered, stating that they failed to take appropriate steps to respond to the concerns for safety.

“On the back of these findings I have written to the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton asking for a breakdown of emergency response times for West Belfast.

“Our policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly will also follow up with questions to the PSNI.

“Residents living in working-class communities want to be assured that their complaints are taken seriously."

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