THE senior detective investigating the tragic deaths of three teenagers at a hotel disco has refused to apologise after the hotel owner was arrested on suspicion of drugs offences but was later “de-arrested” when the powder turned out not to be drugs.
Michael McElhatton accused police of trying to “blacken my name” after he was arrested on suspicion of possessing Class A drugs with intent to supply.
But when the powder, found in a container along with pieces of tinfoil, was fast tracked for forensic testing the results came back negative for drugs.
The 52-year-old was released on police bail on Wednesday night pending further inquiries and is expected back Dungannon PSNI station for further questioning.
On Thursday, Detective Chief Supt Raymond Murray, the head of the PSNI’s Major Investigation Teams, was asked if he would apologise for the events.
“No, I’m not going to apologise,” he said.
“Everything that happened in relation to that arrest and seizure is what we would normally do.
“If you start at the point where you know the end result and look back, it’s actually not a very helpful place to start.
“You have to start looking through the eyes of the officer at the front end, on the ground, who made the discovery.
“I have seen images of the discovery and we’re talking about white powder, in an unmarked, unbranded, clear plastic bag and around that are a number of individual tinfoil pieces which are scrunched up and look like wraps.
“So the police officer sees that, and that is the threshold in law and we don’t have the luxury of time, and reasonable suspects that this is drugs.”
Chief Supt Murray said that as soon as the package was found not contain drugs, correct procedures were followed and the de-arrest was conveyed to the media.
He added: “I know there’s a lot of press speculation about blackening a person’s name – that’s not what we’re about.”
Lauren Bullock (17) from Donaghmore, and Morgan Barnard (17) and Connor Currie (16), both from Dungannon, died following the crush at the Greenvale Hotel as crowds of young people waited to gain entry on Sunday, March 17, for a St Patrick’s night disco.
Chief Superintendent Murray said they have identified 400 people who were at the event and have interviewed 82 of those, with a further 106 interviews scheduled in the next few days.
He also read out a statement on behalf of the families of the three victims.
“The three families would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to the community for their support following the tragic events of Sunday night,” he said.
“They are grateful for all those who have came forward to the PSNI so far and would appeal for anyone who witnessed the terrible event to come forward and give their account to police.”
The funerals for Lauren, Morgan and Connor will take place on Friday, March 22.