A hotel owner quickly cleared of drug suspicions has accused police of blackening his name after three teenagers died outside a St Patrick’s Day disco.
Michael McElhatton, 52, owns the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown in Co Tyrone.
He was detained on Tuesday and remains suspected of manslaughter.
He was further arrested on suspicion of possession of Class A drugs with intent to supply but fast-track forensic analysis swiftly ruled out the possibility, and he was subsequently de-arrested.
Mr McElhatton said: “I am shocked and horrified that the powdery substance taken by police from the laundry in my house could be drugs.
“Despite there being no basis to these suspicions, they have blackened my name and caused so much upset for so many people especially those who are grieving and distressed over the events at the Greenvale Hotel.”
The youngsters died after a crush at the premises on Sunday evening which eyewitnesses described as chaotic.
The hotel owner added: “While I wished to respect the ongoing investigation by the police into the tragic deaths of the three young people at the Greenvale Hotel on St Patrick’s night, I have no choice but to make it completely clear that I have nothing whatsoever to do with drugs.
“I can assure everyone that whatever any suspicions the police have raised about me in relation to anything to do with drugs is totally without any basis.”
Students Lauren Bullock, 17, Connor Currie, 16, and Morgan Barnard, 17, all from nearby Dungannon in Co Tyrone, died.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) moved to defend its actions, saying the arrest and further media communication had been in line with procedure.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said: “As a consequence of the arrest of a person on suspicion of manslaughter a search was carried out at the home of the suspect.
“The search discovered a medium size clear polythene bag containing an amount of a white powdery substance and pieces of tin foil.
“This discovery led to the suspicion that the substance was a Class A drug.
“In line with normal procedure the suspect was arrested on suspicion of possession of a Class A drug with intent to supply.
“This arrest was communicated to the media in line with procedure.
“Given the gravity of the investigation the examination of the bag was carried out urgently.
“Once opened by the Forensic Science Agency for Northern Ireland the substance inside the bag was ascertained to be an innocent substance.
“The suspect was then de-arrested in respect of the drugs offence and a communication made to the media.
“The PSNI would like to make it clear that there is no suspicion of any crime relating to misuse of drugs on behalf of the person who still remains in custody.
“The actions taken were in good faith and in line with procedure.”
The other suspect arrested on Tuesday over suspected manslaughter is a member of the popular nightspot’s door staff.
Hundreds of mourners have left written and floral tributes to the three teenagers.
On Wednesday DUP leader Arlene Foster signed a book of condolence in Cookstown.
She said: “I cannot begin to comprehend the pain and anguish the families of Lauren, Connor and Morgan are going through at this time.
“As a mother of two teenagers this is the news no parent should ever receive, particularly as young people go out for an evening of enjoyment.”
She added: “The tragic loss of life has been felt across the entire area of Cookstown, Dungannon and beyond.
“There are many homes in Northern Ireland who have been devastated by tragedy over the bank holiday weekend.”
Up to 400 people were present as the tragedy unfolded, and detectives said it was fortunate more were not killed.
Police confirmed some were trampled underfoot as they waited to enter the disco.
Buses let youngsters off outside before the disaster happened.
Counselling services are being provided to those affected and prayer services have been held.