Eight PSNI officers disciplined over man’s death

Supt Mark McEwan
Supt Mark McEwan

Eight police officers have been disciplined over failures in the search for a man who was reported missing and went on to be killed by a train.

Jonathan Magee, 29, was killed when he stepped in front of a train at Knockmore Bridge near Lisburn in January 2011.

Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire said the police response to the disappearance of the man, who had a history of mental illness, was inadequate, lacked communication between the officers involved and largely ignored the procedures in place for such issues.

Two inspectors, three sergeants, and three constables have been disciplined over the incident.

Dr Maguire said: “Although they were told Jonathan was at ‘high risk and suicidal’, it took police almost seven hours to formally make this assessment themselves and then having done so, they largely ignored it. Minimal inquiries were conducted into Jonathan’s whereabouts in the last few hours of his life. A number of opportunities to find him and return him to the hospital were missed.”

Jonathan had phoned the police to say he was in Cavehill Park in Belfast and had attempted suicide. The police went to where he was, arranged for an ambulance and followed him to hospital where they were told that medical staff planned to detain him.

The officers left at that point, but before Jonathan was detained he walked out of the building.

A concerned nurse phoned police to tell them what had happened and asked them to pick him up. Although the officer who took the call circulated Jonathan’s details to police personnel in the area, they did not link this to the previous incidents, did not send a police vehicle to get him and did not initiate any proactive inquiries to find him.

Dr Maguire said: “This officer did not ask for even the most basic of details, such as Jonathan’s name, address and why he was being treated in hospital.

“Even this information alone would have allowed him to connect the call to the previous incidents and correctly identify Jonathan as a ‘high risk’ missing person and initiate an appropriate investigation.”

It took more than nine hours from the nurse’s call for the police to formally assess and record Jonathan as being at ‘high risk’, something Dr Maguire said was “an unacceptable, significant failure”.

PSNI superintendent Mark McEwan said that the report was “challenging” and would be taken “very seriously”. He added: “On behalf of the PSNI, I apologise unreservedly to the family of Jonathan Magee for the police failings in this case and how it was investigated.”