The police response to a hotel disco crush that killed three teenagers in Co Tyrone has been referred to the Police Ombudsman, after it emerged that the first officers who arrived at the scene of the tragedy withdrew to await support.
Morgan Barnard (17) , Lauren Bullock (17) and Connor Currie (16) died following a crush near the entrance to the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown on Sunday March 17th, St Patrick’s Day.
It is understood police had been subject to attack in the area on previous occasions and officers who arrived at the scene in a car initially withdrew amid concerns about a potentially hostile environment.
Due to the ongoing security situation in Northern Ireland, officers are known to exercise caution prior to engaging with large crowds in other night time scenarios.
The Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire will be tasked to examine whether such a response was appropriate given the situation unfolding in the car park of the Greenvale Hotel on the night.
Actions of all involved considered
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton has referred the actions of the police officers who first responded to the emergency call to Dr Maguire for investigation.
Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin announced the move on Tuesday.
“The ongoing investigation into the tragic events at the Greenvale Hotel is active and wide-ranging,” he said. “As part of that investigation, it is right and proper that the actions of all those involved are considered. Part of the investigation has included a review of the initial police response. The first police officers arrived at the hotel grounds shortly after receiving the 999 report,” he said.
“Following their initial assessment they made attempts to establish more detail and information about what was happening and subsequently withdrew to await further police support. When the first ambulance arrived police moved forward in support of them. The timing and nature of police actions during this period require further investigation to fully establish the facts.”
He added: “The Chief Constable has therefore decided that the initial police response should be subject to independent scrutiny and it is in the public interest to refer the circumstances and the nature of the actions of the first officers arriving at the scene to the Police Ombudsman.”
“The families have been informed of the referral.
“The confidence of the families and the confidence of the communities we serve are at the forefront of our minds in our decision to refer this matter to the Police Ombudsman.
“We will work with the ombudsman to support whatever action he undertakes and would ask that people do not speculate or prejudge the outcome of the ombudsman’s investigation.”
The owner of the hotel – Michael McElhatton, 52 – was arrested last week on suspicion of manslaughter and later bailed to return for future questioning.
Another man, aged 40, was also questioned on suspicion of manslaughter and released on bail pending further inquiries.
The Police Ombudsman’s Office said it had commenced an investigation into the police response to initial reports about the incident at the Greenvale Hotel, after a referral from the PSNI.
A spokesman said: “Our thoughts are with the families who have been so tragically bereaved.
“Our investigators have now begun gathering information about the initial sequence of events, and have appealed for witnesses to contact them.
“They are keen to hear from anyone who saw police in the area of the Greenvale Hotel on St Patrick’s evening, March 17th.” –PA