Getting accountability after a police raid

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A CO Antrim mother wants to know why six armed police officers charged her house last October with weapons drawn.

And she has told The Detail of her anger at being informed by the policing watchdog that it could not investigate her complaint because only the PSNI’s Professional Standards Department can question the deployment of the armed response unit.

Now the woman, whom we identify only as Rosie, has also told The Detail how she views that response totally inadequate. She said: “The police investigating the police is not an acceptable alternative.”

Read more on the complaint Rosie has now lodged with the Police Ombudsman’s office here.

Her experience raises yet more questions about the value of the Police Ombudsman’s office – this time to members of the public looking for accountability in contemporary cases – following a year of revelations about political interference in high-profile investigations into the past.

Rosie and her husband Danny – also an assumed name – are both disabled and were horrified when they found themselves the subject of an armed police charge on their home in Co Antrim on October 22 last year.

“It was a terrifying experience,” according to Rosie, “as six armed men in black in full body armour, black helmets ran towards my house with guns pointed at my home.

“They did not identify themselves and they could clearly see my 15-year-old son standing beside his father at the front door.

“But they did not speak at all. My husband ran out with hands above his head shouting, ‘there’s no threat…what’s going on…why are you here?’ But they did not respond.”

She said the only communication was a demand to know, “which room is he in?”

Rosie said this was a reference to a visitor to her home.

This man, she says, is disagnosed as a psychotic schizophrenic. He had arrived at her house that evening in a very drunken state and only after he had been seen speaking to a neighbour with whom Rosie’s family had been having a long-running dispute going back many years.

“We had watched this man talk to our neighbour’s wife for some time, maybe 20 minutes and there was nothing in the body language to suggest there was any problem,” said Rosie. “At times both seemed to be leaning against the door frame.”

After the chat, man walked the short distance to Rosie’s house and said he had resolved the dispute – and then fell into a drunken sleep on a chair in the living room.

From that point on Rosie suspected there might be some reaction. But even when she saw police arriving at the neighbour’s house she could not have predicted just how bad things would turn out. This is her account of what happened after the initial arrival of police officers:

“A dark unmarked car pulled up outside our neighbour’s home, followed very shortly afterwards by another car and a PSNI squad car. I phoned a friend and asked her to come over. She arrived in a taxi and was watched studiously as she entered our home by several police officers.

“We sat waiting for the police to come to our door to speak to our inebriated visitor but no immediate effort was made by them.

“Approximately 30 to 40 minutes later, we saw an Armed Response Unit pull up. There was a lot of activity between the officers who had arrived in the original cars and the officers that appeared to be connected to the Armed Response Unit [ARU].

“In particular, we noticed that the ARU officers seemed extremely agitated. One officer in particular paced back and forth on the roadway in front of their van, constantly pulling at his peaked cap, his uniform top and trousers for most of the time and my family began to become very frightened about the reason that they had been called in by the Antrim PSNI as we were completely unaware of the allegations made by our neighbours.

“We were left in complete bewilderment as to what we were facing and no-one from the Antrim PSNI even attempted to make contact with us either physically or by telephone. Given the long-term nature of our dispute with these neighbours we had issues with the police handling of the dispute.

“But the Antrim-based officers would have been well aware of the history and as the Community Police have been both regularly and recently involved with this situation, it would not have been very difficult to obtain the contact details for either me or my husband.

“We were so frightened, at this stage, by the actions of the PSNI personnel outside our home that we told our two children to go to their rooms and stay there. We then sat watching to see what exactly was going to happen; we had to wait for approximately 30 minutes before a group of ARU officers started charging towards our home, in full attack uniform and fully armed.

“Our drunken visitor was asleep oblivious to what was happening so, on hearing my scream that ARU officers were running towards the front of our home, and as several of them split from the group in different directions, going down either side of our home, my husband ran frantically out into the front hall, threw open our front door and threw his hands up in mid-air, shouting “Don’t shoot, there’s no threat! What’s going on? It’s just a drunken fella, he’s had too much to drink and is out cold inside!”

“My 15 year old son had just made it downstairs on his crutches as my husband opened the front door and as I was a step or two behind my husband at that moment, I went to shove my son out of the way, but just then I heard raised voices coming from my living-room. I shouted to my son to get back upstairs but he paid no heed, saying that he was staying with his dad.

“I ran back down the hall into the living-room to find that our drunk visitor had been wakened by all the fuss, had decided to try to explain his actions to the police. He did not seem to realise the exact situation. He wanted to speak to the police but we were frightened that in his condition he would be at risk so we tried to keep him inside until we could negotiate his surrender to police with the armed officers at the front of the house. I was terrified that this whole situation was about to get a lot more volatile and I was afraid that someone was going to get hurt.

“The ARU officers did not identify themselves in any way or even tell us why they were there, they also did not ask if there were any children in the house, in fact, they didn’t even speak at all. They stopped at our doorway. My husband shouted to them: ‘Could you please give us a bit of a hand here, he’s just drunk, he’s not armed, he’s not any kind of threat, he doesn’t even know what’s happening’.

“None of the officers responded in any way, they just stood there pointing their guns. I shouted out to them begging for help but was also ignored. I held the door as long as I could, but our drunken visitor eventually overpowered me and went staggering down the hall towards the front door.

“Only then did the officers respond, by shouting at him to get his hands out of his pockets and to get down on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Our inebriated visitor tried to say there was no gun, but they just moved closer whilst still yelling at him. I ran towards the door and pulled my son back out of the way, just in case they opened fire at our visitor.

“The officers moved in and cuffed him while he was lying face down on the ground. I was in hysterics at this stage as there had been armed police officers pointing guns at my husband and my son and they were now manhandling our drunk visitor as they dragged him across the street to their van. I sent my son back up to his bedroom as I did not want him witnessing any more than he already had.

“Four PSNI officers entered our home, two females, who proceeded into the living room to see who else was in the house and two male officers, who remained in the hall talking to my husband.

“I went into the hall in time to hear the two male officers explain the neighbour’s allegations about our drunken visitor having a gun. One officer explained that the neighbours had stated that they had witnessed our drunken visitor enter our home and after going upstairs into our son’s bedroom throw the gun on my son’s bed.

“We both told them that the allegations were totally unfounded, but after apologising for the inconvenience, they said that they had to go upstairs and check for themselves. We told them to go ahead and do what they had to but informed them that our drunken visitor had never even been in our son’s room before in his life, never mind that night.

“Me and my husband accompanied the two male officers upstairs. One officer stepped just inside my son’s bedroom doorway and apologised to my son for disturbing him and asked if there was a gun in the room, explaining about the statement made by the neighbour suggesting our drunken visitor had dumped a gun in there. Our son was quick to point out, as we had, that our visitor had never been in his room and told them there was no gun. The officer glanced around the room and at the two beds briefly before leaving, seemingly satisfied that there was no gun present. He did not go fully into my son’s bedroom or even make an attempt at a proper search, which seemed disproportionate with the whole fiasco in the front street.

“All four officers left our home immediately after that and that was the last contact we had with the investigating officers for that incident. They did not question or take statements from any of the people present in our home that night about anything that had happened.

“The Antrim PSNI and the Armed Response Unit showed a complete lack of concern for the fact that we had our two young children in our home that night, or for their safety, especially given that my youngest child was on crutches and would not have been able to move very quickly to get out of the way had they opened fire, never mind the safety of the four other people who were present in our home that night.”

The man taken away from Rosie’s house that night was subsequently convicted in court of threatening behaviour and was given a three year suspended sentence. He has also been served with a restraining order to keep him away from the neighbour’s house.

Rosie said he has moved to another area and is currently taking his medication and has stopped drinking.

“He couldn’t even defend himself,” she said, “because he had no memory of the events of that night…at all.”

But Rosie says she and her family can remember every detail.

“This was a terrifying experience for us all,” she said. “The police could have handled this is a much better way. There was no need for the aggression towards our family.

“They could so easily have telephoned our house and we could individually stepped out of the house to show there was clearly no threat to the police or anyone else.

“But they chose to charge with weapons drawn. This was not necessary and I want the officer who made the decisions on the night to be investigated as to his conduct and his flawed decision making.”