No evidence PSNI ignored sectarian attack - ombudsman
Loyalists beat Catholic man to death after watching Rangers v Celtic game in Derry
Kevin McDaid (49) who was beaten to death by a sectarian mob in May 2009 after a Celtic v Rangers football match. Photograph: Handout/PA Wire.
The North’s Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire has found no evidence that PSNI officers failed to act to protect a Catholic man who was beaten to death by loyalists in Coleraine, Co Derry six years ago.
His friend Damian Fleming was also assaulted and seriously injured. Mr McDaid’s wife Evelyn and a pregnant woman were also injured.
The loyalists crossed from another part of town to launch the attack in the nationalist Heights estate in Coleraine where the McDaid family resided. Nine men received prison sentences over the attack.
Questions were raised at the time as to whether police in Coleraine could have done more to protect Mr McDaid and his family. There were also claims that some police officers goaded loyalists into crossing the River Bann in Coleraine and entering the nationalist estate.
Dr Maguire, in his report published Thursday, said there was no evidence to support concerns that police did not intervene to stop the sectarian attack. He also said he did not find evidence that “police officers had earlier texted a number of loyalists in an attempt to inflame tensions in the town”.
“My investigation has found no evidence to suggest that police planning and actions that day were driven by anything other than a desire to prevent injury or damage to Coleraine and its citizens,” said Dr Maguire.
“Police did all that could be reasonably asked of them. The sole responsibility for what happened lies with those who attacked Mr McDaid and others in such a vicious way,” he added.
Dr Maguire said his staff had compiled a detailed and independent picture of what happened. This involved conducting house to house inquiries to identify people who saw what happened and recording 120 witness statements from members of the public from both sides of the community and from police.
It also involved examining all available CCTV footage, listening to all local police radio transmissions, studying police notebooks, and examining a number of mobile phones.
“A forensic examination of these phones uncovered no evidence of any calls or text messages as alleged to those who were in a bar where Rangers supporters had been prior to the attack or to those who were subsequently arrested for it,” said Dr Maguire.
He added that he had considered very carefully the allegation that policing of events was not robust enough. “There is clear evidence that police had made plans which were regularly reviewed. Each time there was a report of increased tension, police responded to it,” he said.
“Police had planned for the possibility of trouble, particularly when the bars closed, with more officers to be put in place. Had they taken a more visible approach and put officers in riot gear onto the streets, police judged that this might have provoked the sort of trouble they were trying to avoid,” said Dr Maguire.
He also addressed the complaint of how a group of people intent on causing trouble were able to get to the Heights estate without police intercepting them. “The most direct route between where these men had been prior to the attack and the Heights estate was to use the main bridge across the River Bann,” he said.
“We have looked at the CCTV footage covering the period in question and can confirm that no large groups of people can be seen using the bridge prior to the attack. It was later established that those involved had not travelled in one group to the area and had taken different routes,” said the Police Ombudsman.
Dr Maguire said that for him the most serious of the allegations was that police did not respond properly to reports of the attack and then, when they got to the scene, failed to intervene.
“Police records and the eye witness statements do not back up this suggestion. Indeed some of the people who were there and saw what happened have praised the officers for their attempts to intervene,” he said.