Northern Ireland

PSNI 'locker' case: Former officers conditionally discharged

Dungannon Magistrates' Court
Image caption The case was heard at Dungannon Crown Court

Two former police officers who admitted charges of obstructing a police officer in the course of his duty after more serious allegations were dropped, have been given conditional discharges.

An allegation against a third former officer was withdrawn completely.

The two officers were sentenced almost six years after the investigation began.

The case reached court twice in preparation for trial, on two separate sets of charges, which were dropped.

Thomas Geoffrey Ellis, 53, of Cookstown PSNI station, Harry McMahon, 49, of Dungannon PSNI station and David Power, 48, of Sprucefield PSNI were all originally accused of perverting the course of justice relating to an incident in July 2012 in which contents were removed from a locker.

They denied the charges which reached crown court but were thrown out in 2015, following applications by the defence.

The prosecution brought the three back to court in July 2016 on alternative charges of misconduct in public office, which were disputed.

A trial was scheduled to get underway in early 2017, but this had to be adjourned due to Mr Ellis suffering poor health.

One day before the trial was due to commence Dungannon Crown Court was advised the misconduct allegations were not proceeding, and instead Mr Ellis and Mr McMahon would be charged with obstructing police.

Both pleaded guilty. The charge against Mr Power was dropped and he faced no further matters.

In June 2012, a sentencing hearing heard an investigation was launched into potential illegal conduct by the Crime Team based at Cookstown PSNI.

The following month, offices were searched and the police officers under investigation were placed on discretionary leave and warned not to enter the station.

Mr Ellis then sent a text to Mr Power complaining about this treatment.

"No comment" replies

He passed his locker key to Mr Power. Mr Ellis then contacted Mr McMahon who got the locker key from Mr Power.

Mr McMahon travelled to Cookstown PSNI where he emptied Ellis's locker.

But he was arrested and during interview admitted taking the removed items to a dump.

Police searched the dump and recovered computer devices, mobiles phones, police notebooks, photo montages, as well as a motorcycle helmet and number of other items from a traffic collision.

McMahon was of the opinion he wasn't doing anything criminally wrong, as "he had been given the key to the locker."

Mr Ellis however, was interviewed 12 times and during all, made "no comment" replies.

Both men would later admit the much lesser charge of obstruction and accepted their actions had been done to deliberately frustrate an ongoing investigation.

Case hanging over him

Explaining the decision to lay lesser charges and accepting they could have been dealt with at Magistrates' Court, a prosecution lawyer said a review had been conducted and none of the material found was of serious nature and therefore of no risk to the public.

Mr Ellis' lawyer said, "My client's decision to tidy up the contents of his locker has ruined his career and had a devastating impact on his health."

Mr McMahon's lawyer said her client had "lived a very unusually long time with the case hanging over him, through no fault on his."

The judge accepted had both defendants been charged with obstruction originally they would have been dealt with at Magistrates Court.

He noted both defendants had shown "a lack of judgement".

He imposed a conditional discharge for 12 months on both defendants and ordered the items removed from the locker to be destroyed.

In response to an enquiry to the PSNI following sentencing a spokesperson said, "There is nothing further to add to what was said in court today."

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