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Wednesday 11 December 2019

Officer suspended over Brady's death in custody

A police officer in the North has been suspended following a probe into how a dissident republican killed himself while in custody, it emerged today.

The Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson said his investigation into the death of John Brady found no evidence he was mistreated, but officers were criticised for having left the suspect alone on nine occasions at Strand Road police station in Derry.

It was shortly before 5pm on October 3 last year that his solicitor found the 40-year-old hanged in a consultation room at the station.

His case sparked further controversy when masked gunmen, from the so-called Real IRA, fired a volley of shots over his flag-draped coffin prior to his funeral in Co Tyrone.

Brady, who was jailed during the Troubles for murdering a policeman, had been arrested on assault charges while on parole.

Eighteen months prior to his death he was also due in court charged with a dissident republican murder bid on an ex-British soldier in 2002 - but the case was dropped over concerns about DNA evidence.

At the time of his death it was speculated that he feared a return to prison, but his family had raised concerns over the circumstances.

Mr Hutchinson today said he had recommended disciplinary action against a number of police officers.

In subsequent a statement the PSNI offered its sympathies to the Brady family and added: "The conduct and actions of all officers involved have been thoroughly investigated by PONI (Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland).

"A file concerning this case has been forwarded to the PSNI Professional Standards Department and a decision has been taken to suspend one officer."

Mr Hutchinson said: "The death of anyone is a tragic event. It is even more so when someone takes their own life while in the custody and care of the police.

"The grief of the family needs to be respected. In situations such as these it is essential that the circumstances of the death should be closely examined."

Mr Hutchinson said that a 12-month investigation by his office had found that "several failings in the management and design of the custody suite at Strand Road were contributing factors in providing Mr Brady with the opportunity to self harm".

While acknowledging that officers within the station's custody suite would have had no indication that Brady was at risk of self-harm, and that they had conducted the necessary checks, he said that they had repeatedly breached guidelines designed to minimise risk to prisoners, to police and others in the custody suite.

"Mr Brady was left alone and unsupervised in the consultation room on a total of nine occasions, for periods of up to 33 minutes at a time," said the ombudsman.

"It is totally unacceptable that any prisoner should have been left unsupervised for such significant periods of time, particularly while in possession of shoelaces in a room with a viable ligature point."

Although there were no cameras in the consultation room, separate footage showed that no one entered or exited the room during the 33-minute period that the prisoner was alone prior to being found dead.

Mr Hutchinson also revealed that the first aid treatment administered to the prisoner was not in accordance with police training.

An officer used cardio-pulmonary resuscitation techniques in an attempt to revive him, but did not additionally make use of a defibrillator and oxygen supply, as recommended in training.

A medical expert concluded, however, that the additional use of the defibrillator and oxygen supply would not have revived him.

Mr Hutchinson said officers should have been aware from police guidance that detainees may be particularly vulnerable when they know that they are to face criminal charges. Brady had been told during the final consultation with his solicitor that he was going to be charged.

The Police Ombudsman added that an officer's indication to Mr Brady, shortly after he was admitted to custody, that he would be taken to court, "had the potential to affect his emotional state, given that he was looking forward to release from a long prison sentence".

It was, however, concluded that on the basis of the information police had available to them at that time there were sufficient grounds for his arrest and detention.

The Police Ombudsman also criticised "a generally lax attitude" towards the management of the custody suite. Failings included inaccurate record keeping relating to night-time checks on detainees and inadequate communication between officers during shift handovers.

Mr Hutchinson said: "These failings were highlighted to the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) at an early stage, along with recommendations for steps to be taken to help prevent a reoccurrence."

The Police Ombudsman added that he had decided "in the public interest" to report on his findings regarding police interaction with the dead man, in advance of an inquest into his death.

Brady, from Lisnafin Park in Strabane, was jailed in 1991 after pleading guilty to killing Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve Constable David Black in a car bomb attack near the Co Tyrone town.

He was freed in 1998 as part of the Good Friday peace agreement's early release scheme but returned to custody five years later after breaking the conditions of his licence.

In 2008, he was accused of leaving a bomb under the car of a former Royal Irish Regiment soldier in Sion Mills, Co Tyrone seven years ago.

However, the Crown case against him was dropped after concerns about low copy DNA were highlighted in the Omagh bomb trial.

The statement issued by police in response to the probe into the death in custody said: "The Police Service would like to offer their sympathies to the family of John Brady who very sadly took his own life in a police custody suite in October last year.

"It is highly regrettable that this tragic death occurred within a police station, and we know that this has caused considerable concern amongst Mr Brady's family, wider family circle and local community."

The police service said it took the issues raised by the case extremely seriously and said it was addressing any weakness in procedures.

"There is also a significant amount of work ongoing right across all Police Districts to ensure that all custody suites comply with the highest national standards," said police.

"Almost 28,000 people were processed through custody suites in Northern Ireland last year so it is essential that the safety and wellbeing of anyone detained continues to be of paramount importance.

"We know that the Brady family will have questions in relation to the PONI report and we are available to meet with them to try and address any of their concerns."

Police said, in addition to the suspension of one officer, disciplinary action has been recommended against two other officers and this is being taken forward by the local District.

Meanwhile, acting chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board Brian Rea said: "The Ombudsman's Report records a series of police failings in respect of this case and it is deeply regrettable that these had the tragic outcome of providing John Brady with an opportunity to take his own life whilst in police custody.

"Our sympathies are extended to the Brady family.

"We note that the police have accepted the Ombudsman's recommendations but we must ensure that lessons are learned and the Board has asked the Chief Constable for a full report on police actions to address the Ombudsman's findings and recommendations; particularly in respect of Custody Suite management, police procedures and actions taken against those officers cited for disciplinary proceedings."

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