Belfast Telegraph

PSNI pays out over £1m in public compensation claims

Chief Inspector Jon Burrows
Chief Inspector Jon Burrows
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The PSNI has paid out over £1million in compensation to the public over the past three years, it has been revealed.

A BBC Nolan Show investigation found over half of money paid out was for "wrongful acts" by police, such as assaults by officers, wrongful arrest and wrongful detention.

In the last financial year, there were 165 compensation claims settled for wrongful acts costing more than £549,000.

That was almost 100 more than the 68 claims in 2016/17 for which a total of £155,000 was paid out.

Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said the money should be scrutinised and examined to determine if it could be reduced.

"Every penny that is available to the PSNI needs to be spent on front line service delivery," she said.

"There are issues around police performance and I am sure there are lessons to be learned. Not only for reducing claims but also for the reputational harm any wrongful arrest or any damage to property can cause within a community."

Superintendent Jon Burrows told the BBC the payments were "entirely different" from police misconduct and wrongdoing and were not reflective of bad or unethical policing.

For cases classified as "assault by police" he explained that was a legal classification in which someone was injured when it was not their fault, as opposed to a criminal assault and the use of "deliberate and excessive force".

One possible example, he said, could be where a police officer has arrested someone, handcuffed them and then slips and falls injuring that person. Also, an arrest could be made "in good faith" with information obtained and the use of force required and later the information received was incorrect and the arrest considered unnecessary.

He admitted there could be a crossover between the payments and claims of police misconduct.

"The vast majority... relate to purely civil matters," he said, pointing to a falling level of complaints made to the Police Ombudsman - which investigates allegations of wrongdoing.

"There is a different legal framework for dealing with allegations of assault by police," he said.

He explained claims may be settled for examples such as a search of property when they had the wrong information as to who lived at the address and given the speed officers acted "mistakes are made".

"And we would want to make redress for any damage done and there is a legal channel to do that and we engage with claimants to that," he said.

"Policing is a human endeavour. We have nearly 7,000 officers dealing with 900,000 calls for service, arresting thousands of people a year, searching thousands of people, searching many properties, seizing property and in the transactions we conduct sometimes mistakes are made."

He said at times information may be incorrect or incomplete and at times there are system or human errors.

"We have to make redress by people that are affected," he said.

"And it is right and proper that an accountable police service that wherever we do something that does have an impact on some one else that we are held accountable and where appropriate we make monetary redress for any injury or damage we have caused."

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