Claim culture ‘wasting PSNI time and resources’

The man arrested in Larne accused the officer of locking his handcuffs too tightly
The man arrested in Larne accused the officer of locking his handcuffs too tightly
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Valuable police resources are being wasted by a growing claim culture in Northern Ireland, a former RUC reservist and politician has said.

The claim comes after a police ombudsman investigation cleared a PSNI officer of causing “possible lifelong injuries” to a man by closing handcuffs so tightly that he suffered “suspected nerve damage”.

The investigator concluded there was insufficient evidence to support disciplinary action and closed the complaint as unsubstantiated.

Ex-UUP MLA Ross Hussey, who served as a part-time RUC officer until 2002, believes a “more common sense approach” must be taken by the ombudsman.

The former Policing Board member, who last month announced he was retiring from political life, told the News Letter: “We live in a claim culture, where there are increasing numbers of people who think that if they cry loud enough they will get compensation.

“Police are under so much scrutiny, and it is right that there should be a mechanism to hold officers to account. But common sense must prevail.

“Many of these investigations are wasting valuable police time and resources, and bringing officers’ names into disrepute.

“There should be a minimum threshold for evidence before the ombudsman commits to launch a full investigation.”

The former West Tyrone MLA said: “Considering the significant pressures facing the PSNI and given the fact that police resources are stretched thin, a degree of common sense should be used when determining if all these cases warrant a full investigation.”

Mr Hussey added that, in cases where an officer is cleared of any wrongdoing, they should be permitted the opportunity to make a counter-claim.

In response to Mr Hussey’s remarks, a spokesman from the Police Ombudsman’s Office said every complaint is assessed to determine whether a full investigation is required.

“Some less serious complaints are dealt with by informal resolution, which is quicker and avoids the need for a full investigation,” the spokesman added.

“The allegations in this case were serious and it was only by conducting a detailed investigation that we were able to establish that they were unfounded.

“So investigations by the Police Ombudsman’s Office can serve as a safeguard for officers when they have done nothing wrong, as well as identifying occasions on which they have not acted properly.”

The incident in question involved the arrest of a man in Larne last August.

The complainant claimed he had been left with no feeling in his thumbs or first fingers and was still attending hospital, after the officer “squeezed as tightly as he could” while closing the handcuffs.

The man said he had “begged and begged” for the handcuffs to be loosened while being transported in a police cell van to a custody suite in Belfast, but his pleas were ignored.

He recalled his hands going numb and hearing the two officers in the van laughing.

The complainant also alleged that an officer refused him permission to use the toilet before he was placed in the van.

A police ombudsman investigator obtained accounts from the officers involved, as well as an independent witness who had seen the arrest.

This witness said the man had been struggling with police as he was being taken to the cell van, and said he then heard banging from inside the van and an officer asking the man to stop.

The witness added that none of the officers had acted inappropriately during the arrest.

The officer who applied the handcuffs said he had complied with police procedures, checking them for tightness and double locking them.

A report by a police doctor who examined the man noted that there were marks on a number of places on his arms.

The police ombudsman investigator said this suggested that the handcuffs had a degree of movement, rather than having been locked tightly in one place.

Other medical evidence suggested that the man may have sustained injuries to his wrists months previously.

Witnesses also recalled that the man had been offered the use of a nearby bathroom, but had refused and asked to use one upstairs.

He was advised that he would be unable to fully close the door as he was under arrest, and witnesses recalled that the toilet he was offered would have provided adequate privacy as there was no one else in the area.

The investigator also noted that the man did not specifically allege that the officers had been laughing at him, simply that they had been laughing.

She concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support disciplinary action against any officer and closed the man’s complaint as unsubstantiated.