Watchdog busts anti-PSNI myth by citing stun gun use

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The Police Ombudsman’s public support for PSNI officers who used a stun gun to zap a suspect in Londonderry back in 2008 has been cited as “myth-busting” evidence that the watchdog is not out to get police officers.

Dr Michael Maguire referred to the first ever use of a Taser in Northern Ireland in the city back in 2008 when he addressed the Police Superintendents’ Association and pointed out that the vast majority of complaints against police are not upheld.

“The truth is that more than 70 per cent of the complaints we investigated are not upheld. We also have a high degree of satisfaction from those officers who have actually been subject to investigation.

“I can point to many public statements were we have been directly supportive of police activity in some difficult circumstances – three cases come to mind – Seamus Fox, Taser in Derry and shooting of Marc Ringland.

“These are cases where there was considerable public concern and required independent and impartial investigation. It was important that our findings were made public.

“The reality is also that according to our survey information the vast majority of Officers who engage with the Office are satisfied with the service they have received,” he said.

Dr Maguire was referring to a report by his predecessor Al Hutchinson into the first ever use of a Taser in Northern Ireland, which had occurred in Londonderry, in the early hours of August 16, 2008.

The report - published in 2009 - said police were called to an incident in the Galliagh area around 3am.

Acdcording to the report a woman who was in a distressed state said that her partner had locked himself in their home with their two children, aged four and five, and was threatening to kill the children and himself. She said he had been drinking and had a knife.

The officer who discharged the Taser later told Police Ombudsman investigators that he believed the children would have been at risk if the man had re-entered the house.

Mr Hutchinson ruled that the deployment of a Taser was “justified and proportionate.”

In his address to the local police chiefs Dr Maguire also attempted to dispel the myth that the Ombudsman doesn’t understand the difficulty of the police’s job.

He said: “The answer is that we do. I understand that policing is a very difficult job. I understand, for example, that the threats you face are far greater than the financial ones we are speaking about today.”

Dr Maguire also denied his office creates miles of red tape that distracts from front line police work.

“Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate needless red tape but like death and taxes it will always be with us – particularly in a Northern Ireland public sector context.

“I think it was Sir Ken Bloomfield - ex head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service - who said ‘Northern Ireland is the size of an English county and had the administrative apparatus of a sovereign state’ – if we can measure something here we tend to do so – and twice just to be sure,” he said.