PSNI has no reason to apologise over Cookstown hotel owner’s arrest, says officer

Investigation into deaths of three teenagers on St Patrick’s night is ‘fast-moving’ and ‘high intensity’

Det Chief Supt Raymond Murray said police had no reason to apologise to Michael McElhatton for further arresting him on Wednesday on suspicion of possession of a class A drug with intent to supply. Photograph: David Young/PA

Det Chief Supt Raymond Murray said police had no reason to apologise to Michael McElhatton for further arresting him on Wednesday on suspicion of possession of a class A drug with intent to supply. Photograph: David Young/PA

 

The funerals of the three students who were killed in the St Patrick’s night crush at the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown are taking place on Friday in Catholic churches in Co Tyrone.

Ahead of the funerals of Morgan Barnard (17) Lauren Bullock (17) and Connor Currie ( 16) their families paid tribute to the teenagers and to the local community.

At a police press facility in Belfast on Thursday a statement from the Barnard, Bullock and Currie families was read out in which they extended “their heartfelt thanks to the local community for their support since the tragic events of Sunday night”.

“The families would also like to thank the emergency services who responded at the scene and the staff at Antrim Area Hospital,” they added.

The Barnard family said they would remember Morgan as loving the simple things in life. “He volunteered for a number of things including working at the local Cancer Research shop,” they said.

‘A smile for everyone’

“He always had a smile for everyone and brightened up the classroom with his humour.”

The Currie family thanked the Antrim Area Hospital staff, paramedics, ambulance staff, PSNI and members of the public who helped him.

The Bullock family said Lauren would be remembered as a “very thoughtful and caring young girl who was outgoing and fun loving”.

Hundreds of people are due to attend the three funerals, which take place over the space of five or six hours on Friday in the home parishes of the teenagers.

The funeral Mass for Morgan Barnard is being held in St Patrick’s Church, Dungannon, at 10am. An hour later the Mass for Lauren Bullock will take place in St Patrick’s Church, Donaghmore.

At 2pm the funeral Mass will be held for Connor Currie in St Malachy’s Church in Edendork.

Meanwhile, a 40-year-old man arrested on suspicion of manslaughter over the deaths of three teenagers has failed in a Belfast High Court bid to secure an immediate release from custody.

Under the law he can only be held for a limited time before detectives must seek extensions.

Anonymity

The High Court granted the man anonymity but rejected his bid to secure an immediate release from custody.

The court was told that since being detained the man was taken to hospital twice for psychiatric assessments – trips accounting for a combined period in excess of 17 hours. This meant, the court heard, that by the time the legal challenge started he had only been subjected to a maximum of 60 minutes of interviews.

Michael McElhatton, owner of the Greenvale Hotel, who also was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter on Tuesday, was released on bail late on Wednesday night.

The PSNI officer leading the investigation into the deaths, Det Chief Supt Raymond Murray, said on Thursday police had no reason to apologise to Mr McElhatton for further arresting him on Wednesday on suspicion of possession of a class A drug with intent to supply.

Later on Wednesday he was “de-arrested” in relation to this charge when the suspected drug found in his home laundry turned out to be an “innocent” substance, possibly, according to one source, washing powder or bicarbonate of soda.

Drug charge

Mr McElhatton accused police of blackening his name with the initial added drug charge, a claim rejected by Det Chief Supt Murray. He said police followed “proper” procedures.

“I know there is a lot of press speculation about blackening people’s names,” he said. “Let me be very, very clear here today: that’s not what we are about. What we are about is investigating the deaths of three children in a fast-moving, high-intensity investigation.”