A hero cop narrowly avoided prison today after falsifying a police statement over a speeding investigation.
Ex-Belfast Harbour Police constable Scott Harkins, who once picked up a life-saving bravery award, was told by a judge she was suspending his three-months prison sentence for a year as he had already “lost his job and his reputation” over his conduct.
Harkins, whose address was given on court papers at c/o BHP Milewater Basin, Belfast, had pleaded guilty last Friday to misconduct in a public office.
The offence stated that he “wilfully neglected to perform his duty as a police officer and wilfully misconducted himself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the trust of the public in that you falsified evidence in a speeding investigation.”
A charge of perverting the course of justice was left on the books.
Prosecution barrister Philip Henry told Belfast Crown Court that on October 27, 2017, Harkins was on duty with a female colleague in the Belfast Harbour estate.
He said the two police officers observed a taxi vehicle exceeding the speed limit at various points along the two mile route.
“The defendant submitted his statement of evidence relating to the speeding,” Mr Henry told Judge Patricia Smyth.
“Thereafter he left work for a significant period on sick leave.”
The court heard that on his return to work in April 2018, Harkins received an email from his supervisor inviting him to “confirm that the speedometer was checked for accuracy” at the end of his duty the previous October.
The following day he replied by email indicating that the “statements had been amended accordingly”.
Mr Henry said that the misconduct in a public office related to Harkins “amending his statement and that of his colleague to insert an assertion that the speedometer had been checked for accuracy”.
He added: “The statements were amended to insert ‘before the end of the day the accuracy of the police vehicle speedometer was checked’.
“The Crown case is that the accuracy of the speedometer had not been checked on the date in question, meaning the new insertions into the statements were false.”
Defence barrister Ian Turkington told the court that Harkins “is a man with a clear record and of impeccable good character”.
He told the judge that due to the incident, it “resulted in him losing his job of 15 years with Belfast Harbour Police of which he was a valued police officer”.
The defence lawyer said married Harkins had since found employment overseas working three months on and three months off in an effort provide for his family and educate his children.
He revealed that the father-of-two had received a bravery award for saving the life of a person from the River Lagan where he was also an RNLI crew volunteer for 15 years.
Passing sentence, Judge Patricia Smyth said that it was clear that although Harkins had falsified the statements, no attempt was made to make a false complaint or a false prosecution.
She told Harkins: “It is important that every police officer can be trusted to make truthful statements.”
Judge Smyth added that “public confidence in the police depended on the veracity of police officers”.
“However, there is no doubt that you have already paid a high price for your wrong doing. You were a police officer with an exemplary reputation and good character.
“You have lost your job and your reputation. You were awarded a bravery award after rescuing an unconscious woman from the freezing waters of the River Lagan.”
Imposing a three month prison sentence, the judge said that she was taking account “the considerable impact that your offending has already had on your and your family” and would suspend the sentence for a period of 12 months.
But Judge Smyth told Harkins: “If you commit any offence in the next 12 months, this sentence may be put into operation along with any other sentence.
“It is highly unlikely that you will come before the court again.”
Before leaving the court, Harkins replied: “Thank you, Your Honour.”