Hard-hitting investigations. The implications of a district court judge's dismissal of public order cases where CCTV footage contradicted police accounts.
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CCTV cameras are used everywhere to help fight crime,
but tonight on Spotlight,
with exclusive footage, we bring you the story of how CCTV cameras
in Omagh have brought sharp focus on police methods.
Here, a policeman punches a late-night drinker in the face.
The way they have intervened has escalated
the aggression and the violence.
This is a middle-aged man being dragged to a police car.
I'd liken it to an individual being dragged from a war zone.
Totally unacceptable. I'm shocked and disappointed.
And Omagh's new police commander gives us his view.
That is absolutely horrendous.
It's over the top, but you have got to look at it in the round.
But it's not just heavy-handed policing that's in question.
It now appears there's a serious issue about the reliability
of some police evidence.
I believe that the new Chief Constable has a job of work to do,
to send an investigating team into there, to find out
what exactly has been going on.
This programme contains some strong language.
By day, it's quiet, but at weekends,
John Street in Omagh is Tyrone Party Central,
attracting hundreds to its many bars and its nightclub.
# Tonight We're drinking from the bowl... #
But it can also be a place of danger.
Two teenagers died in this town centre street
in the past 18 months, after late-night street fights.
Chief Superintendent Kevin Dunwoody is the new Divisional Commander
for this area. His first major task is to find a way
of dealing with public order issues.
We have had 96 assaults in Omagh over the last year.
36 of those have actually occurred
in the area that you are showing on the footage there.
There is a risk to people that are there. We have to make sure
we are there to be able to protect the public.
So, the police have a duty of care to protect the public
at closing time from potential disorder.
And, yet, paradoxically, they also have a duty to protect
the late-night drinkers from the harm they can do themselves.
Patrolling the streets is never easy, especially at closing time.
Take, for instance, this brief disturbance in December, 2012.
A camera phone captures the moment the police arrive.
CCTV images show how quickly the situation threatens
to escalate out of control, as scuffles break out.
Four cases have raised serious questions about policing in Omagh.
Police ombudsman Michael Maguire has set up a team to investigate.
He first took an interest in Omagh a year ago.
I asked for some work done, internally, in relation
to the pattern and profile of cases,
in relation to Omagh.
I, at the beginning of this year, shared that information
with the police, with a view to saying,
"Look, there are some questions here."
We asked two experienced former police officers
to look at how the police acted in the December 2012 incident.
That first initial use of force will... What we see
in many, many instances, it will inflame the crowd.
Dr Stuart Kirby is a former Divisional Commander,
with 30 years' service,
who now specialises in public order policing in England.
So, rather than being the solution, achieving the objective,
the police intervention is now part of the problem,
because what has gone from a celebration is now a, sort of, more
severe confrontation between police and public.
Ulster Unionist MLA Ross Hussey
patrolled the streets of Omagh for 25 years, as an RUC officer.
From what I see, they shouldn't have moved in at all.
There was, what appeared to be, a boisterous, happy crowd.
But based on what you see in the video, it's a happy crowd,
who have a drop of drink too much.
The drink's in,
the wit's out, but there is no aggression shown there.
We put it to Chief Superintendent Kevin Dunwoody that the actions
of his officers seen here, had escalated the situation.
This didn't look like a threatening crowd, at all.
At the start, it's not a threatening crowd.
You saw two officers come in and then it escalates very quickly.
Only when the police push in seems to be the escalation point.
We are looking at one piece of evidence. We are looking at the CCTV.
You are looking at it without listening to what is being said,
without, sort of, looking at it from the context of the crowd,
the context of the officers and the threat they perceived and felt.
We then showed the Chief Superintendent how the arresting
officer subdued this man.
They are trying to get handcuffs on him and, yet, this happens.
He seems to be thrown to the ground here.
It looks horrendous. What they are trying to do
is put the arrested person under control.
This is one of the cases which has been referred to the ombudsman.
You can look at the video and you can form an opinion.
It's up to the ombudsman to take an objective view,
based on all the evidence.
Arising out of this melee, two men found themselves
facing criminal charges, including the man we saw earlier
being thrown to the ground. That is Leo McCullagh.
You can see him here, in a blue T-shirt, being arrested.
In these statements, four officers describe seeing Leo McCullagh
punch a constable in the face, using his fist.
And four of them describe seeing 15-20 men blocking the street
to traffic. Perhaps, what is most important about these statements
is that they corroborate each other,
providing the Public Prosecution Service
with a compelling reason to prosecute.
Leo McCullagh is charged with disorderly behaviour,
resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
Solicitor Conor Sally represented Leo McCullagh.
He told his client to seek out the CCTV footage of the incident.
In Leo's case, the key critical factor was the CCTV.
Number one, the CCTV had been sought.
Two, the fact that it then covered the incident
and that it wasn't pointing in a different direction.
Using those CCTV images, the person highlighted here
is Leo McCullagh, before the arrival of the police.
He was 27, when seen here celebrating the outcome
of a televised Premier League football match.
We asked him to recall what happened that night.
I was drinking, but I wasn't drunk. I can remember it all, like.
We were just happy. We were messing about after... Doing no harm, like.
And up to this point, Leo had never been arrested.
When a hooded member of his group tries to touch
a passing police van, it's Leo who pulls him away.
Remember, it will be Leo who will be arrested for public disorder
and the assault of a police officer.
Given Leo's account and the CCTV footage, his solicitor
didn't believe he had a case to answer,
but when Conor Sally saw the police statements, they gave
a very different and damning version of the events that night.
It appeared to me that Leo's story was very close,
if not identical, to the CCTV footage.
And when we received the statement from the police, it became clear,
at a very early stage, that there were
several inconsistencies between what had happened on camera
and what was in the police statements.
In order to clearly demonstrate those inconsistencies,
we have reconstructed the police version of events,
using their signed statements.
"These males were blocking the path of our police vehicle and made
"no efforts to move as our vehicle approached."
This account of people blocking the street is corroborated
by two other officers. One of them, in his statement, said,
"I observed a crowd of approximately 20 people on the road
"and they covered the entire width of the road."
The other officer, in his statement, said,
"the 15-20 males were making it impossible for traffic
"to move along the road."
But the CCTV footage appears to show only a couple of males actually
walk into the middle of the street.
And we counted six vehicles driving past.
The following is from the statement of one of the officers
involved in the incident, describing the movement
of a fellow officer, who was later involved in the punch.
"He had his arms spread wide with his hands open."
But from two different camera angles that doesn't appear to be the case.
The officer involved in the punch had this to say in his statement.
"I escorted the males over to the footpath.
"As I did this, the group became hostile,
"shouting and swearing at myself. Then, a male, I now know to be
"Leo McCullagh, shouted at me, "Go fuck yourself.
"Don't fucking touch me."
"I warned Mr McCullagh to calm down and get off the road.
"However, he pushed my chest with both hands."
But hold on.
What can be seen from the CCTV footage is that one, or both,
of Leo's hands are always visible, which is in conflict
with the police officer's statement.
"I took control by holding him by the shoulders and pushed him back
"off the road."
What the officer doesn't note is that the he pushes Leo
against a parked taxi, so hard the taxi shakes.
And it's now the crucial incident occurs.
Leo denies punching the officer.
He says he was pushing the officer away.
Did you punch at him?
When he pushed me against the taxi, I pushed him off me.
You can clearly see there that I pushed him off me.
Even in court, when confronted with CCTV evidence,
the officer continued to insist his version of events was correct.
The police officer that alleged that he had been punched on the nose
was quite adamant, upon watching
the CCTV, maybe, up to 20 times in court.
He was still adamant that he had been punched and it appeared the mood
within the court appeared to be that, perhaps, he was the only officer
that believed that.
Journalist Ryan McAleer has been covering Omagh Court for years.
Of course, doing court duty, you see police officers cross examined,
but the presence
of the CCTV and the fact they were able to use it,
juxtaposed with their defence statement.
I mean, I don't think I've seen a police testimony dismantled as well,
or to such an extent, before.
The CCTV footage of Leo's arrest played a key role in the courtroom.
After hearing police officers being cross examined,
as pictures were shown in the court, the PPS made a crucial decision.
They decided not to proceed any further with the case
and the judge dismissed all the charges.
Incredibly, as Spotlight has discovered,
the PPS brought this case solely on the police statements and without
even looking at the evidence provided by the CCTV footage.
We had asked for CCTV footage from police and it only came
at a very late stage. We had already
taken the decision to prosecute. That is something for us to learn.
But if the case asked questions about the decision-making
of the PPS, it raised more serious questions
about the reliability of the evidence of police officers.
Had it not been for CCTV, this might never have been revealed.
I think it was apparent to everyone in the court
and, most importantly, the judge, who has the final decision,
that the evidence given by police just simply wasn't consistent
with what had happened on camera.
Policing expert Stuart Kirby said the police accounts of the crowd
blocking the road appear to come directly from standard
police training on how to resolve conflict.
By saying the road is blocked, there is
a clear reason to engage with the crowd.
What the officer says is he notices the officer go towards the group
and use his open hands to gently push the males off the road.
Now, this would be consistent with the conflict-resolution model.
Doubts about the credibility of police evidence were also raised
again six months later, on New Year's Day this year,
with the arrest of two Omagh teenagers.
Emmet Donnelly and Mark Meenan agreed to talk us through
their arrests and their night in a police cell.
I wasn't too happy, waking up in a cell, like.
-You'd never had any arrests or any trouble?
I went home the next day and told my mum, you know,
but she didn't know what to think of it, at all.
On the night he was arrested,
Emmet Donnelly saw police intervene in a fight.
That is Emmet in a white shirt highlighted in the bottom left
of your screen.
He is stopped by a police constable, who wanted to question him.
It's difficult to make out exactly what happened next,
but what can be seen clearly, on the left of your screen,
is the police officer used what he called a "controlled headlock".
-There's the headlock there.
And then he says that he told you to calm down.
Aye, I was telling him here I'd done nothing wrong
and then a couple more cops get involved.
Emmet's handcuffed and, as he's led away,
Mark Meenan, highlighted here on the right of your screen,
comes into contact with a police officer. The officer stated...
Mark Meenan's recollection is somewhat different.
He says he was grabbed by the officer and he believes
the CCTV supports his version of events.
They took Emmet away there and I went over to talk to him
and then I was grabbed by the throat.
The policemen say that you blocked their path,
that you were trying to block their path and stop them
from taking Emmet away. Would you agree with that?
Not really, no, I wasn't trying to block the path.
I was only trying to talk to Emmet.
And what did you say to Emmet?
Tiocfaidh ar la. Good man, Emmet. Tiocfaidh ar la.
Do you think that was regarded by them as provocative?
It probably would be, aye.
The teenagers were charged with disorderly behaviour,
assaulting police and resisting arrest.
In court, District Judge Bernie Kelly was again asked
to compare CCTV footage of the arrests
with the police evidence presented
in statements and courtroom testimony.
We've reconstructed the court hearing.
When the CCTV was played in court,
police officers accepted the defence contention that,
in a number of areas,
their police statements did not match the pictures.
The CCTV was used to get the officers to agree
a number of issues on the CCTV that hadn't occurred
and, therefore, that left the judge in some degree of doubt.
In court, the judge said she had difficulty with
the memory of the senior officer,
but most damning of all was the word she used
to describe the police evidence in the case.
She told the court it was "tainted".
Judge Kelly accepted that the CCTV images contradicted
the police version of events and she threw out the case.
For these two teenagers, the entire experience has done nothing
to increase their trust in the police.
It doesn't change my views at all on the police.
I had very little faith in them before and now, after that,
I have got nothing at all, like.
SDLP policing spokesperson Dolores Kelly
says this lack of trust among some young people in Omagh
is the result of contentious policing.
It actually brings, again, a breach in trust with the like of myself,
who is a policing board member,
somebody who stood on the lines in republican and nationalist areas
and went into some of the heartlands and encouraged people
to have confidence in the new beginning to policing.
If, as a consequence of cases like these,
where it appears there is a breach in the public's trust in police,
then it could be argued that where there is no CCTV footage, it becomes
very difficult to rely solely on police statements and evidence.
In January 2013, Anthony and Shona Kirk
were putting their children to bed
when Shona thought she heard a knock at the door.
When she looked out, she saw the police outside.
Thought it would be for Anthony, got up, I...
He came to the front door, opened up the door...
The dog came to run by him. He reached down and grabbed the dog.
He called the dog every name under the sun.
But police statements accused the Kirks of shouting and swearing
from their front door, not at the dog, but at them.
The Kirks said they were about to lock up
when suddenly the front door was pushed open.
Went like that there to put the handle up.
Next thing, door comes flying open, I go flying across like this.
The police officer came in, grabbed me by the hair,
had me by the throat like this. Then I shouted to get his...hands off me.
Anthony came flying out the door...
But the police version of events is entirely different.
they say they tried to speak to Anthony Kirk at the front door
and had to put their foot in the door as the Kirks tried to close it.
Anthony Kirk maintains
that one officer first attacked his wife in the house
and so he moved to rescue her.
I just grabbed him, swung him away.
There was no need for them to come in and assault my wife.
But it was the Kirks who were charged with assault.
However, the case was thrown out because,
as their solicitor, Michael Fahy, explains,
the judge ruled the police had no legal right to enter their home.
It is very clear on the evidence of the officers that they had
-no legal entitlement to enter that property.
-And the judge agreed.
After dismissing all the charges against Anthony and Shona Kirk,
the judge called for the police officers involved in the case
to be brought before her.
I want you officers to take a note of what I am about to say.
She went on to say that what Anthony and Shona Kirk had suffered,
which involved the imposition of handcuffs, leg restraints,
being kneeled upon,
she regarded this very seriously indeed
and went so far as to say
that officers cannot do so without the lawful authority
and she believed that they did not have the lawful authority.
Six months later, Michael Fahy was asked to represent
43-year-old Devin O'Reilly and his wife, Tracey.
They had been charged with disorderly behaviour,
obstruction, assault and resisting arrest.
Michael Fahy said before this, the O'Reilly's had never had
so much as a parking ticket.
A totally law-abiding couple, two persons who are in employment,
they are married, they have children.
They both work and I suppose, like anybody else,
they enjoy a night out at the weekend.
But other than that, they certainly wouldn't be within
the eye of local police at all.
Omagh's CCTV captured the moment last November
that two police officers
jumped from the car to sprint to the entrance
of the Irish National Foresters Club at closing time.
They wanted to speak to Mr O'Reilly
who was standing outside the club after a night out with his wife.
He'd been drinking in this club
and had come outside at 2.30 in the morning
and had tried to wave down a taxi,
except it wasn't a taxi, it was a police car.
One of the officers inside believed that Mr O'Reilly
had made a rude gesture by giving the police the finger.
One constable involved in the arrest told the court
he had not seen any gesture, but had jumped out of his car
to follow his colleague in the direction of Mr O'Reilly.
Reporter Ronan McSherry was in court that day.
The constable subsequently said that he didn't see Mr O'Reilly
making any sign at all,
that he was just going by the reaction of his colleague,
-so maybe I'll just refer to my note here...
-Yes, please do.
The constable didn't see anything but went and grabbed Mr O'Reilly.
He says he didn't know why they were stopping,
but he knew by his colleague's body language that he wasn't going to
ask Mr O'Reilly how his day had been.
And the CCTV footage had yet another secret to reveal.
This is Devin O'Reilly being dragged to a police car,
accused of assaulting police and resisting arrest.
It's totally unacceptable.
I find it difficult to be critical of the police,
but seeing it does shock me. I wouldn't have expected that.
I likened it to an individual being dragged from a war zone.
In Devin O'Reilly's court case, there was much confusion
about his alleged rude gesture to police.
The court heard that one officer had put in his first statement
that Mr O'Reilly had used his index finger.
But then he made a second statement to make it clear
he had meant to type middle finger.
The District Judge was very quick
to say that this was far from a typographical error.
I don't believe that any adult cannot
tell the difference between the middle and index finger.
I have a five-year-old granddaughter that knows the difference.
After hearing the police officers present their evidence,
which included two of them admit to punching Mr O'Reilly
while he was on the ground with a policeman's knee in his face,
the Judge delivered a damning verdict on the police evidence.
I take it as a foray into a fairytale I've just been spun.
And there was just one other strange aspect to the Devin O'Reilly case.
It's also evident as well that after he was placed into the police car,
he was taken home.
They didn't take him to the police station?
Didn't take him to the police station.
If an individual has injuries of any visible nature, then ordinarily
what officers do is that they have the person examined
by a forensic medical officer.
In his statement, an officer explained what happened
when they drove Mr O'Reilly to his home.
If they were going to proceed with a prosecution,
why not take him to the station and charge him?
You know, because why take him home?
If the whole row was that he had allegedly attempted to stop a taxi,
clearly he wanted to go home.
Ironically, the very police car that Devin O'Reilly tried to hail
as a taxi could have been the one that took him home.
The Omagh cases didn't just focus attention on the actions
of the police.
Criticism was also made of the role of the Public Prosecution Service,
the PPS, because it's their decision
whether or not a case should be brought before the courts
In the case of Devin O'Reilly, the judge was very damning
of the prosecution.
In referring to the role of the Public Prosecution Service
in bringing the case to court, she had this to say...
The prosecution case is so flawed
that no jury could return a guilty verdict.
A police file at its conclusion is always forwarded onto
the Public Prosecution Service,
who then decide whether the case has merit to proceed.
So really I don't think the PPS are without any criticism here either,
because they are supposed to act as a buffer as regards
unmeritorious cases, and they're supposed to weed out cases
like this and make sure they don't ever get to court.
So we put these criticisms to the Public Prosecution Service.
These cases, the CCTV has been used in the public court.
I've got the cases here on this laptop.
Will you look at these pictures with me and talk about it?
I don't think it would be appropriate for me to look at them now, Chris.
I'm certainly willing to review those cases,
cos I've already looked at some of them.
OK, let me ask you a question then about a specific case,
the case of Leo McCullagh.
Have you had a chance to look at that footage?
I haven't looked at that footage.
I have looked at, there's been some clips on YouTube.
That is one of the cases where I am concerned about the CCTV footage
that was available to police not being made available to us
till a very late stage.
When you say not available till a very late stage...
We had taken the decision to prosecute without
looking at that footage.
-In hindsight is that a mistake?
But could you have avoided taking people to court?
Yes, if we had seen the CCTV footage, I think the case you are referring to
is one where we didn't see it till a late stage,
and that is obviously of regret
and something I will ensure does not reoccur in situations like this.
I think it probably could have been avoided if the prosecutor had seen
that evidence if it had been provided by police
at an earlier stage.
So let's be clear.
What the PPS have just told us
is that the Leo McCullagh case would not have gone to court at all
had prosecutors in their Omagh office looked at the CCTV evidence.
What have you learned from this whole experience, then?
You can't trust the police.
Not all police maybe, but
there's a lot of them you can't trust.
What happens in situations like this is that the public look at it
and they think the police shouldn't be able to use that force,
it's not reasonable, it's not correct.
So what happens is the confidence of the public goes down
in the police and they're trusted less.
Now, what happens then is the public are less likely to co-operate
with the police.
Because the public co-operate less, ring in less,
what then happens is that the police have got to be more authoritative.
So they've got to intervene more,
they've got to use more of their authority than by using consent.
And what happens then is you go into this spiral where police
and community interactions just go down and down and down.
There's no doubt the image of Omagh police has been tarnished,
and the Divisional Commander has concerns about damage
going beyond his area.
In all the pieces of footage which I have viewed with you,
I have to be honest, on the face of them,
they all look absolutely horrendous. They do not present
Omagh police in any way shape or form in a good light.
I do have concerns, not just about the perception which is generated
within one community or another community.
But in the whole perception of PSNI as a whole
as a professional organisation
by the actions of the few may be called into question.
Up until the emergence of CCTV you would have had a client
coming in saying he was involved with police,
he's been charged with assault on police,
but he's no prospect of winning this case cos it's his word against
say, up to four or five officers,
but now we have the assistance of CCTV.
CCTV footage will be reviewed by the Police Ombudsman,
who says he will pay particular attention to the Omagh police cases.
I set up the team which is co-ordinating the complaints
and co-ordinating the investigations into those complaints,
and I will be reviewing those cases on an ongoing basis
as a result of the interest that I've taken in relation to this.
When we invited individual officers involved in the CCTV incidents
and who are still on duty to take part in this film,
the PSNI said they couldn't
because of the Police Ombudsman's investigation
and an internal review.
But Dolores Kelly will be demanding immediate action
be taken by the PSNI.
I believe that the new chief constable has a job of work to do
to send an investigating team into there to find out what exactly
has been going on, both in terms of the actions of police
during the disturbance and the subsequent preparation of files
for the prosecution service.
The policing board meeting is on the 5th of June,
and I for one will be asking questions of Matt Baggott
in relation to the investigation and behaviour of the officers concerned.
So, many questions in this age of ever-present cameras.
As a result of a judge rejecting some police evidence,
there is now wider fall-out from the Omagh cases,
including the extent to which public trust has been eroded.
CCTV footage contradicting police accounts led to a district judge dismissing public order cases and labelling the evidence a fairytale. Chris Moore examines the implications.