Northern Ireland

PSNI officers disciplined over Sean Dolan GAA club arson probe

Sean Dolan's Gaa club
Image caption The Sean Dolan GAA club was badly damaged in the fire

Five police officers have been disciplined following a Police Ombudsman investigation into an arson attack at a Londonderry GAA club.

The investigation found police failed to properly investigate the fire at the Sean Dolan clubhouse in December 2011.

The ombudsman recommended that a detective sergeant and a constable be disciplined for failing to investigate the fire properly.

A duty sergeant and two detective inspectors were also disciplined.

They were found to have failed to supervise and guide the investigation.

'Electrical fault'

The fire broke out in the early hours of Saturday 28 December 2011 and caused extensive damage to the building.

A senior club member told Police Ombudsman investigators that later that morning he met two police officers and fire service investigators at the scene, who told him there had been no sign of a forced entry and that the fire may have been caused by an electrical fault.

The next day, the club member said he met a constable and fire service investigators, who told him they were almost definite the fire had been caused by an electrical fault and that there was no indication of a crime.

The club member said this police officer contacted him later that day after having watched the footage from the CCTV cameras in the clubhouse and reiterated his view that the premises had not been deliberately set on fire.

The police later issued a press release stating that the cause of the fire was not suspicious.

'Shadowy figures'

Two members of the club collected the footage from police and said that within five minutes of looking at it they had seen "shadowy figures" and a number of bright flashes from within the building.

They then contacted members of Sinn Féin, who arranged a meeting with senior police, and together they viewed the footage.

Image copyright Ombudsman
Image caption CCTV footage from the club shows a flash at one of the windows

The following day, 30 December, 2011, police issued a fresh public statement, saying they were now treating the fire as arson. A new detective sergeant was appointed to re-investigate the incident.

On 3 January 2012, the PSNI referred concerns about the effectiveness of the original investigation of the fire to the Police Ombudsman's Office.

As well as the police officers involved, the ombudsman team talked to fire service investigators and crime scene investigator who also said on the basis of the footage they had viewed, they thought the fire had been due to an electrical fault.

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said: "The initial investigation lacked leadership, direction and supervision.

"Police failed to conduct basic investigative enquiries such as checking the perimeter of the clubhouse, conducting house to house inquiries, thoroughly examining the CCTV footage or seeking to speak to the 999 caller who reported the fire.

"The detective sergeant initially assigned as the investigating officer had no previous experience in attending a fire of this scale and the constable who he appointed to continue the investigation had minimal experience.

"Together they received insufficient guidance and assistance from more experienced officers."

In a statement, the police said: "We acknowledge that the Police Ombudsman report identified a number of errors during the initial police examination and that there were failures on the part of five officers.

"The five officers were recommended for misconduct proceedings and this has been acted upon.

"A number of steps were taken by police following the incident. These included the appointment of an experienced detective chief inspector to ensure resilience at all levels of command.

"A CID support team was brought into the district for six months to allow coaching and training. Bespoke local training was delivered across a range of specific topics."

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