PSNI sergeant cleared of manslaughter charge

David McGowan was found dead in a police cell in Lisburn
David McGowan was found dead in a police cell in Lisburn

A police custody sergeant has been cleared of the May 2014 manslaughter of 28-year-old Belfast man David McGowan who died in detention.

A prosecution QC told Judge David McFarland yesterday that having taken instructions, he was offering no further evidence in the four-week Belfast Crown Court trial of Sergeant Brian McKenna.

The Recorder of Belfast, who apologised to the jury of seven men and five women over delays, in what he described as a complex case, directed them to return verdicts of not guilty.

Sergeant McKenna, whose address was given as care of PSNI’s Barrack Street station in Lisburn, denied the manslaughter of Mr McGowan and misconduct in public office.

The charges arose out of what Judge McFarland said had been a “thorough” police ombudsman’s investigation, into the detention of Mr McGowan, arrested along with his girlfriend Kirsty Pinkerton outside an east Belfast flat on the evening of May 29, 2014.

A post-mortem later revealed Mr McGowan died of “upper airway obstruction due to inhalation of gastric contents, due to toxic effects of alcohol and drugs”. The court also heard that a tramadol tablet was recovered from his trachea.

Other prescription drugs, diazepam, were also found on an apparently intoxicated Mr McGowan, also seen and heard on CCTV taken from the Lisburn custody suite. At one stage he was heard complaining that police had broken his foot and he wanted a doctor.

Mr McGowan, who also told a civilian detention officer he had taken “between 30 and 40 tablets”, also “had a lot of white stuff in his mouth”. He was later examined by a doctor, who ordered that he be observed and roused every 30 minutes.

Concerns were then raised about his breathing, and it was noticed Mr McGowan had been sick. The doctor was called again, and found Mr McGowan lying on his back with vomit around his mouth.

Although the doctor conducted both mouth-to-mouth and CPR, and an ambulance was called at 1.07am, Mr McGowan was pronounced dead at 1.47am.

A civilian detention officer, Alexander McAllister, awaits sentence on the charge of misconduct in public office.

A charge of manslaughter against the guard was allowed to remain on the books by an earlier court following a guilty plea to misconduct. A possible date for his sentencing will be fixed on Friday.