Northern Ireland news

Drugs probe police's planned search of pensioner's home justified, watchdog says

The search on the house was not carried out when it became clear there was no suspicion of criminality on the part of the householder
Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association

POLICE plans to search the home of an elderly woman as part of a major drugs operation were justified, a policing watchdog has found.

Dr Michael Maguire, the Police Ombudsman, also concluded that officers had been proportionate in their handling of the situation earlier this year.

The woman said she was shocked and upset when a PSNI search unit arrived at her rural Co Tyrone home with the intention of hunting for drugs.

In a complaint, she claimed simple checks would have established that the search was unnecessary as she had never been involved in criminality or drugs.

However, an ombudsman investigator found that even though the elderly woman was not under suspicion, police had been following up on a legitimate line of inquiry.

Records suggested the house had been vacant for a number of years and the PSNI believed it may have been used by criminal elements, the report stated.

The investigator also noted that police had adopted a careful approach, with officers tasked to assess the property without gaining rapid entry to avoid undue alarm.

And, when it became clear there was no suspicion of criminal involvement by the occupier, the house was not searched, although police did check outbuildings in case they were being used without her knowledge. Nothing of concern was found.

Officers had also contacted the householder's daughter and advised that she was upset. Two officers remained with the woman until her daughter's arrival.

In his findings, Dr Maguire concluded that police had justifiable reasons for checking the property, had made suitable checks before doing so and had conducted the operation in a proportionate manner.

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