Unreasonable force?

November 13, 2012

By Christine Keighery

A couple who claim they are the victims of an on-going campaign of harassment and assault by Newry PSNI, were at the centre of a heavy handed policing incident which recently prompted Councillor Michael Ruane to speak out at the unjustified level of force used by police against them.

The Chairman of the Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) voiced his concerns last week at the very public incident which occurred on Monaghan Street in Newry, in the early hours of Saturday 27th October, and resulted in the hospitalisation of the couple. In the statement (which The Examiner featured last week), he expressed his concern about the tactics police used,

“This makes the job of the PCSP, whose remit is to build confidence between the public and the PSNI, incredibly difficult. According to witnesses, the level of force used by the policemen involved cannot be justified. Whilst I accept that this case is now with the Police Ombudsman, this very public incident has, I believe, certainly undermined much of the positive work that we have been involved in creating confidence between the community and the PSNI.”

Newry woman, Helen O’Reilly, spoke to The Examiner as she and her husband recovered from the injuries they maintain were inflicted by a “mob” of police officers who approached the couple as they made their way home with a friend after attending their teenage son’s boxing tournament in Newry’s Canal Court Hotel.

The mum of five claims PSNI officers first taunted them both with hand gestures from their police car before approaching the couple on the street and advising her that she was being placed under arrest for – ironically – making abusive hand gestures to police, and being disorderly.  When she questioned police motives, Helen maintains this is when the PSNI officers became aggressive.

“We were simply walking along the street to get a taxi home so I objected to being arrested for something I didn’t do. This is when police surrounded me, grabbing me and forcing me into a police car. There must have been eight of them punching at me, as they bundled me into the police car. They put cuffs and leg restraints on me in the car too.

“My husband was then pounced on and wrestled to the ground while they twisted his hand up his back. Police were screaming that he was resisting arrest but he hadn’t been told he was being arrested. Witnesses say some officers were banging his head off the ground and jumping up and down on him. In the end, there were six car loads of police involved and Tommy’s wrist was broken as a result of the force they used.

“I was taken to Banbridge questioning suite where I collapsed. An ambulance took me to Craigavon Hospital, where doctors told me my heart rate was off the scale and they could only put it down to the stress of what had happened.”

Helen also maintains that a witness to the incident told her he was tackled at the scene by a female officer who, assuming he had recorded events on his phone, confiscated the device while she deleted all recordings.

According to Mrs O’Reilly, the couple’s friend, who was with them at the time of the incident, has made a statement to the Community Restorative Justice group, along with other witnesses at the scene.

She continues,

“When I came home the following morning and saw the state my husband had been left in, I just couldn’t believe it! My face was a mass of bruises too.  This is the third time the PSNI have physically assaulted me but the abuse and harassment myself and my family have been subjected to from the same group of officers has been going on for over two years now.  We’ve had to install security cameras outside the house as they were harassing us in our home!

“We’ve had enough now and I’m speaking out because I don’t know what else to do.  Our lives have been turned upside down by this campaign from police and we live in fear of what’s going to happen next. I want people to know what the PSNI are capable off and what my family have gone through.”

The Newry woman has kept an extensive file of documentary evidence which, she claims, catalogues each and every incident where she or her family have been the victims of assault and harassment by police officers.   She has reported details of this most recent event to the Police Ombudsman, in addition to a previous case she has brought against the PSNI.

The Examiner spoke to Ewan Morgan, Development Worker with the CRJ, who told us,

“The first point of contact for Helen and Tommy O’Reilly was the CRJ Newry/Armagh office in Ballybot House on 10th May 2012 regarding alleged assaults by the PSNI.

“After CRJ met with Helen and Tommy and listened to their story, we advised and encouraged them to take a number of steps to address the issues. We advised her to work with her local independent PCSP members and supported her by giving her the opportunity to tell her story and have CRJ, as an independent body, listen to her properly.

“We also advised her to contact the Office of the Police Ombudsman and advised for her to keep a factual record of any future incidents.

“Most importantly CRJ provided, and continues to provide, a package of support for the O’Reilly family which, until May 2012, had been conspicuously absent.”

A spokesperson for Newry PSNI said,

“Shortly after 2am on Saturday 27 October police spoke with a female in the area of Monaghan Street in Newry. The 40 year old female became disorderly and was subsequently arrested on suspicion of disorderly behaviour, assault on police and resisting police. A 38 year old male with the female was also arrested on suspicion of disorderly behaviour, assault on police and resisting police.

“Following her arrest the female became unwell and was taken to hospital for a check up.

“The 38 year old male was subsequently charged with disorderly behaviour, assault on police and resisting police and is expected to appear before Newry Magistrates Court on Wednesday 21st November. The 40 year old female was subsequently released pending a report to the Public Prosecution Service. As is normal procedure all charges will be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service.

“The matter has also been referred to the Police Ombudsman who will investigate the appropriateness of police actions. As with all such incidents, anyone with a genuine complaint about the actions of police should make contact with the Police Ombudsman who will fully investigate the matter.

“The PSNI in Newry & Mourne are committed to working with the community to promote safety and reduce crime”

Mr and Mrs O’Reilly have appealed to anyone else who witnessed the incident to contact the CRJ office in Ballybot House, Newry.