Police ombudsman rejects concerns over police actions over Coleraine attack
The police ombudsman has found no evidence to support concerns that police did not intervene to stop a sectarian attack in Coleraine in which a man later died.
Kevin McDaid died after he was attacked outside his home in May 2009.
A number of people were also injured in the attack.
Michael Maguire also said he had found no evidence that police officers had earlier texted loyalists in an attempt to inflame tensions in the town.
The attack, which happened in the Heights housing estate in Coleraine, happened on a day when Glasgow Rangers won the Scottish Premier League.
Nine men were later convicted for offences relating to the death of Mr McDaid and the attack on the other people who were injured.
The police ombudsman launched an investigation after concerns were voiced that policing on the day of the attack had not been robust, that some police officers had texted loyalists earlier in an attempt to goad them into violence and that officers did not intervene when these men launched an attack.
Dr Maguire described the referral made to his office about events that day as among the most "serious" which could be made.
He said his team undertook a thorough, detailed and independent investigation of what happened.
The ombudsman said house-to-house inquiries were carried out and his staff recorded 120 witness statements from the public on both sides of the community and police.
His staff also examined CCTV footage and listened to police transmissions on that day.
They also recovered and examined a number of mobile phones and reviewed relevant police documentation from officers involved in the operation.
"All this material when taken together has allowed us to compile a detailed and independent picture of what happened," Dr Maguire said.
"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.
"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."
In relation to allegations that police had texted loyalists, Dr Maguire said: "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."
Dr Maguire said he had also 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," he said.
"Each time there was a report of increased tension, police responded to it.
"From early afternoon, police were talking to both sides and for several hours this seemed to be help contain things.
"They had neighbourhood police officers 'on the ground,' police vehicles were patrolling the area and officers were watching the bar on CCTV cameras.
"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."
Dr Maguire said some people had questioned 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.
"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."
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," he said.
"Indeed some of the people who were there and saw what happened have complimented the officers for their attempts to intervene."
SDLP assembly member for the area John Dallat said he did not agree with some of the ombudsman's conclusions.
"We need to learn from police ombudsman's reports and here I don't see any help or advice in how this situation could be prevented in the future," he said.
"I'm taking issue with the conclusions of the report. I'm not obviously disputing anything that the police ombudsman is saying, but I'm, saying his conclusions are wrong."
The DUP's Gregory Campbell said: "While I agree [with the ombudsman] and I'm glad that the ombudsman has clarified the position as to the immediate aftermath of the attack, what I don't think he did do was give the context of before the attack.
"For months and weeks a particular part of Coleraine - that Heights area - had a small number of people who were engaged in illegal activity, anti-social activity."
He added: "The problem was, I think, that for many months the nettle was not grasped."