Belfast Telegraph

Some people can't be helped, but that is just not an excuse

Police have thankless task with drunks but they still have a job to do, says Malachi O'Doherty

The silent voices of the video make it more shocking. There is no access to the reasoning of the police, when they carried a woman who was barely conscious and set her down on a bus lane.

One might imagine that they thought she would come to no harm, that she was a hard case, that there was no point taking trouble over. One might imagine all sorts of things.

There is no indication that the police were under intense pressure. They were not being attacked. There is nothing frenzied or urgent about the manner in which they carried her and set her down.

But then, we don't know.

Perhaps they thought someone else would come along and look after her.

The video shows two people walking past and doing nothing to help her.

The traffic seems to slow down, but no one stops.

Maybe, just seconds after the video ends, she did get help. Maybe she got up and danced a jig. Maybe she lay there on the cold wet road for hours.

You can't tell from the video whether she lived or died.

Presumably she didn't die or we'd have heard about it.

Why did they leave her on a bus lane and not on the footpath? Would she not have been safer there?

But then why did they not call an ambulance for her or take her with them in their car to the station?

Well, they wouldn't want her vomiting on the seat, and maybe they didn't want to face the paperwork.

But does it not say something about the remoteness of the police from the community if they couldn't think of anybody they could turn to for help, someone who would have sat with her until she recovered consciousness, or waited with her until some other form of professional intervention, aside from policing, was possible?

Okay, we all know what a nuisance a drunk can be. We know they don't often change. This woman was not going to sober up in a moment and turn into a civil citizen. She may be past expecting to be treated any better anyway.

The assumption is that she was drunk. The police must be sick of drunk people. There they are in their flak jackets looking like genuine crime fighters, and what lands on their lap but a floppy woman who needs nursing?

Maybe they thought they were doing her a favour by not putting the cuffs on her and taking her in. Maybe they knew her. Maybe they knew her so well that they could predict her behaviour, were sick listening to her and found it easy to brush her off.

One might easily imagine how a police officer would react to the tedium of drunken interference.

Some people can't be helped. But that excuses nothing.

That woman was laid down on cold wet Tarmac where she could have died, whether by vomiting if she was drunk, or by the dampness creeping into her bones and lungs. She was in a bus lane where another driver not seeing her could have driven over her. There were cars parked near her that might have reversed onto her.

And two police officers moved her to the side of the road as if she was an overcoat that had fallen out of someone's car, to leave her by the kerb where someone who cares – if there is anyone who cares – would find her later.

And what they'll be thinking today perhaps is that there was a time when you could get away with that, when there weren't cameras pointing at you everywhere you went, when you weren't under the surveillance of the nosy and the belligerent.

As if a peeler hadn't enough to worry about.

"Well below the standards we expect from our officers," was how Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton described the behaviour of the two police officers.

But what would they have faced back at the station if they had either brought her in or spent the next hour just sitting with her to be sure she was okay? Endorsement from above for a job well done? Maybe.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph