PSNI officers who arrested a man at the end of a 35-minute car chase through north and west Belfast will not face disciplinary action following a Police Ombudsman investigation.
The complainant – named only as Man A – claimed the officers had deliberately knocked him down and assaulted him as he ran off after getting out of the vehicle he had been driving.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott asked the Police Ombudsman’s Office to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations.
During their investigation, Police Ombudsman investigators obtained police documentation and radio transmissions, CCTV footage of parts of the pursuit, and statements from police officers and Man A.
They also conducted house-to-house enquiries in the area where the alleged assault took place, and secured medical records about the injuries sustained by Man A.
Having reviewed this evidence, the Police Ombudsman concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support Man A’s claims.
The pursuit began at about 4.50pm on 14 September 2011 after Man A, who was driving a red BMW car, failed to stop when a police patrol signalled for him to pull over in the Old Suffolk Road area of west Belfast.
Man A later said that he had panicked and drove off as he was a disqualified driver and was driving a car belonging to a friend.
The police patrol received permission from the PSNI’s Belfast Regional Control to commence a pursuit.
During the course of the next 35 minutes, up to four other police cars became involved in attempting to stop Man A as he made his way across west and north Belfast.
Man A said his route had taken him along the Andersonstown Road, the Falls Road, Broadway, the Westlink, Grosvenor Road, Northumberland Street, the Shankill Road, Agnes Street, the Crumlin and Oldpark roads, Cliftonville Circus and the Ardoyne Road.
Man A later conceded that he had driven dangerously at times during the pursuit.
At one stage there was a collision between a police car and Man A’s vehicle, which police said happened when Man A reversed into them, but which Man A claimed occurred as police had “rammed” him.
Police radio transmissions also recorded that a woman in the Ardoyne area told police that she had nearly been knocked down by a BMW, while another motorist had reported to police that his car had been struck by a red saloon car which had failed to stop.
Police made a number of efforts to stop Man A during the pursuit – including at least two unsuccessful attempts to use “stinger” devices designed to puncture tyres.
An officer attempting to use one of the stingers said Man A had driven directly towards him, forcing him to jump over safety railings at the Westlink’s Grosvenor Road off-slip. The officer sustained injuries in the fall. Man A, however, denied having driven directly towards anyone.
The pursuit ended when Man A drove into an alleyway off Brompton Park in the Ardoyne area, jumped out of the car and ran off. He recalled that the vehicle continued moving after he got out.
He said the pursuing police car was then driven directly towards him, knocking him to the ground and forcing his legs under the vehicle. He said two police officers got out of their vehicle and began kicking and punching him, before arresting him.
The two officers denied attacking Man A, stating instead that there had been accidental contact between their vehicle and Man A as they swerved to avoid the moving BMW.
Both said Man A then got up and ran off, only to fall again a short distance away, at which point he was arrested.
Man A subsequently appeared at court and pleaded guilty to a range of driving offences. He received a sentence of 21 months imprisonment and was disqualified from driving for five years.
At the end of the investigation, the Police Ombudsman’s Office submitted a file to the Public Prosecution Service in relation to the allegations of dangerous driving and assault made by Man A against two police officers. The PPS directed that neither officer should be prosecuted.
In considering the case for potential misconduct issues, the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, noted that despite house-to-house enquiries in the area, there were no independent witnesses to the events in the alleyway at Brompton Park.
However, he said there were inconsistencies in Man A’s evidence which served to undermine the credibility of his account.
These included the fact that a police officer had felt it necessary to jump down a high drop, sustaining injuries, to avoid the car driven by Man A, despite Man A’s claims not to have driven directly towards anyone during the pursuit.
Dr Maguire also said it was significant that medical records obtained after the incident showed that Man A had sustained a dislocated and broken ankle, but made no mention of any other injuries consistent with him having been subjected to an assault.
The Police Ombudsman concluded that there was insufficient evidence to justify any disciplinary charges against any officer.