Northern Ireland

Civilian detention officer given suspended sentence for misconduct

The man died in a cell at Lisburn police station early on Friday morning Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption David McGowan died in a cell at Lisburn police station in May 2014

A civilian detention officer working at a police station on the night a man died in custody has been handed a six month suspended sentence.

Alexander McAllister was on duty at Lisburn police station when David McGowan, 28, died in May 2014.

He was working with Sgt Brian McKenna, who was cleared of manslaughter in October.

Appearing at Belfast Crown Court on Friday, McAllister was found guilty of misconduct over a two-hour period.

The 62-year-old was given a six month sentence, which is suspended for 12 months.

Alexander McAllister was charged after a Police Ombudsman investigation was carried out into the death of Mr McGowan.

Mr McGowan was arrested along with his girlfriend outside a flat in east Belfast on the evening of 29 May 2014.

Whilst held, David McGowan was said to have had "white powder in his mouth" before vomiting.

An ambulance was called two minutes later and although CPR was administered, Mr McGowan was pronounced dead at 01:47 BST.

A post-mortem concluded he died from an "upper airway obstruction due to inhalation of gastric contents, due to toxic effects of alcohol and drugs".

"Reckless"

During the trial, CCTV footage from Lisburn Custody Suite was played to the jury, while McAllister gave evidence and spent several days in the witness box.

Judge David McFarland spoke of a series of failures from Alexander McAllister, saying his misconduct was "reckless rather than deliberate".

The court heard of one failure where McAllister did not tell a doctor at the station about a claim that David McGowan had taken up to 40 tablets.

Another failure outlined by Judge McFarland was McAllister disobeying a request by the custody sergeant to check on Mr McGowan after concerns that he was struggling to breathe.

The judge said that had this check been carried out, evidence of vomiting could have been observed and could have led to intervention.

"Police failures"

The family of David McGowan attended the trial of Alexander McAllister, later releasing a statement describing their "frustration".

They said: "that David would be alive today had he been treated humanely whilst in police custody.

"The McGowan family consider that the extent of police failures and the gravity of the consequences are not reflected in the conviction and sentence handed down today".

McAllister's lawyer acknowledged the suffering of the McGowan family.

"He carries the burden that something happened on his watch. He is carrying a psychological wound," he told the court.

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