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Police Ombudsman apology for mother of sex attack victim

A Newry mother whose daughter was subjected to a terrifying sex attack when she was just 14 has received an apology from Police Ombudsman for the treatment her family received from officers carrying out the sexual assault investigation.

Helen O’Reilly’s daughter was attacked by former boxing coach Denis Lancaster at  a family party on 19th October 2010.  Lancaster had pounced on her child, forcing her into a downstairs toilet and subjecting her to a horrific sexual assault.  Following the attack, he climbed out of the window but later returned to the house and, as his traumatised young victim was being comforted by relatives, Lancaster made his way upstairs where he inflicted a further terrifying assault on his first victim’s cousin, who was sleeping upstairs.

In April 2013 Lancaster was sentenced to five years and three months in prison for the attack on the two teenage girls after two years of continually protesting his innocence.  He had further compounded  the trauma of his victims and their families by carrying out a campaign of harassment against them and attempting to tarnish their reputations with scurrilous lies and allegations.

During one  incident which took place at the Rockmount filling station in Newry in March 2011,  Mrs O’Reilly said Lancaster confronted the family and told her daughter he would rape her again.  Mrs O’Reilly and her 17 year old son were arrested at the scene and she claims she was assaulted by a police officer during the incident.

“Police dragged me behind the petrol station sign and physically assaulted me leaving me with extensive injuries, which to this day has resulted in permanent scarring,” the angry mum of five told The Examiner.

“False allegations made by Police in their statements could have resulted in me being jailed.  Lancaster was on Pre Charge Bail conditions when he attacked and instigated the incident on Rathfriland Road.

“He was arrested that day and charged with affray and assault which were later dropped so he was never dragged to court like me,” she added.

“I was charged with indictable offences and dragged to court every four weeks for a year. Then all the charges against me had to be dropped when the Judge viewed the CCTV footage in his chambers.

“I still fail to understand why police told me they had no power to arrest Lancaster even though he was on bail and had broken his bail conditions.

“We were arrested numerous times by police who took Lancaster’s word over ours every time.”

Mrs O’Reilly’s original complaint to the ombudsman about the actions of some of the police officers was not upheld but following a review she received an apology last week from the Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire who said he shared her very serious concerns about the conduct of a senior officer in the Newry area.

The apology letter from Director of Investigations, Dr Brian Doherty, said the review had identified that, with regard to the Rockmount filling station incident, “CCTV evidence and the accounts of some officers did not appear to have been subject to the rigorous examination that we would expect” and concluded that the accounts provided by Police and some witnesses were “not consistent with the events captured on the CCTV footage.”

Mrs O’Reilly had also raised a previous complaint to the ombudsman in relation to the handling of the PSNI investigation into her daughter’s serious sexual assault. Last week’s letter advised that, given the seriousness of the allegations she made in her complaint,  it had been “inappropriate” to progress it by way of informal resolution and that the complaint should have been referred for a formal resolution.

Dr Doherty then apologised to Mrs O’Reilly for not receiving the service she was entitled to.

According to the Newry mum, the Ombudsman has also asked her permission to use the CCTV footage from the Rathfriland Road incident for use in the training of new recruits.

In a statement to The Examiner, a Police Ombudsman spokesperson said,

“Following Dr Maguire’s appointment as Police Ombudsman, Mrs O’Reilly complained to him about the way the Office had previously dealt with complaints she had made about police.

“Having looked at the issues in some detail, Dr Maguire was also concerned about the way those complaints had been handled.

“We have now apologised to Mrs O’Reilly and shared concerns about the complaints with the PSNI District Commander in the area.

“Dr Maguire has introduced strict new procedures, so it is now much less likely that similar issues will arise again.”

Mrs O’Reilly was also informed last week that Lancaster had been released from prison having served just half of his 5 year sentence.

She said that, while she welcomes the apology, she is “disappointed” that there have been no disciplinaries carried out against the police officers involved and said she and her family remain concerned that police will fail to properly enforce early release restrictions placed on Lancaster.

“The harassment of our family and the failure of the police to protect my daughter as a victim of a very serious sex attack has taken an awful toll on our family,” said Helen.

“I just hope that this apology will help to make sure that there are tighter controls on the police so that no other child will have to go through what my daughter did.”