Coleraine murder: ‘Police did all that could be reasonably asked of them’

Police in the Heights area of Coleraine following the murder of Kevin McDaid in 2009
Police in the Heights area of Coleraine following the murder of Kevin McDaid in 2009

There is no evidence that PSNI officers failed to act as a Catholic man was viciously attacked by a mob in Coleraine, the police watchdog has found.

Police Ombudsman (PONI) Dr Michael Maguire also said he found no evidence that officers had earlier the same evening texted a number of loyalists in an attempt to inflame tensions in the town.

The allegations relate to the death of Kevin McDaid, who died after being beaten during a sectarian attack in the Heights housing estate on May 24, 2009 - the day Rangers won the Scottish Premier League over rivals Celtic on the final day of the season.

A total of nine men received prison sentences in connection with Mr McDaid’s death and the injuries inflicted on a number of other people. Dr Maguire described the allegations made in the referral to his office as “among the most serious that can be made,” and that his team “undertook a thorough, detailed and independent investigation” of what happened.

He said his staff conducted house to house inquiries to identify potential witnesses, eventually recording 120 witness statements from people on both sides of the community and police.

All available CCTV coverage of the area was also examined as were all local police radio transmissions made over a 12-hour period on the day of the murder. A number of mobile phones were also examined by PONI investigators along with police records, including notebooks, of police officers on duty at the time.

“All this material when taken together has allowed us to compile a detailed and independent picture of what happened. My investigation has found no evidence to suggest that police planning and actions that day were driven by anything other than a desire to prevent injury or damage to Coleraine and its citizens. Police did all that could be reasonably asked of them. The sole responsibility for what happened lies with those who attacked Mr McDaid and others in such a vicious way.”

Commenting on the mobile phone-related allegations, Dr Maguire said: “A forensic examination of these phones uncovered no evidence of any calls or text messages as alleged to those who were in a bar where Rangers supporters had been prior to the attack or to those who were subsequently arrested for it.”

In response to allegations that the policing of events was not robust enough, he said: “There is clear evidence that police had made plans which were regularly reviewed. Each time there was a report of increased tension, police responded to it.”

His report states that from early afternoon on the day of the murder, police were talking to people on both sides and “for several hours this seemed to be help contain things”.

Dr Maguire said it was apparent that there were neighbourhood police officers “on the ground,” police vehicles patrolling the area and officers watching the bar in question on CCTV cameras.

Police had planned for the possibility of trouble - particularly at the bar’s closing time - with more officers made available to assist.

“Had they taken a more visible approach and put officers in riot gear onto the streets, police judged that this might have provoked the sort of trouble they were trying to avoid,” he said.

The report also points out that some people have questioned how a group of people, described as being “intent on causing trouble” were able to enter the Heights estate without being intercepted by police.

“The most direct route between where these men had been prior to the attack and the Heights estate was to use the main bridge across the River Bann. We have looked at the CCTV footage covering the period in question and can confirm that no large groups of people can be seen using the bridge prior to the attack.

“It was later established that those involved had not travelled in one group to the area and had taken different routes,” said the Police Ombudsman.

He also concludes that there is no evidence to support allegations that police did not respond properly to reports of the attack and then, when they got to the scene, failed to intervene.

“Some of the people who were there and saw what happened have praised the officers for their attempts to intervene,” he added.