Northern Ireland news

Calls for senior police officer Raymond Murray to step aside from Greenvale Hotel probe

Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray
Connla Young

THE chair of a policing partnership body has called on a senior detective to step aside following the de-arrest of Greenvale Hotel owner Michael McElhatton for suspected drug offences.

Chair of the local Policing and Community Safety Partnership, Denise Mullen made the call after Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray, who is head of the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, refused to apologise for the arrest last week.

Mr McElhatton was first detained last Tuesday on suspicion of manslaughter following the deaths of three teenagers, Morgan Barnard (17), Lauren Bullock (17) and Connor Currie (16), after a crush outside his Cookstown hotel on St Patrick’s night.

On Wednesday afternoon police announced that he had been "further arrested on suspicion of possession of Class A drugs with intent to supply" after detectives searching his home in Moneymore "seized a quantity of suspected Class A drugs".

Michael McElhatton, owner of the Greenvale Hotel

Just two hours later Mr McElhatton was "de-arrested" after fast-track forensic analysis of a "suspicious package consisting of a white powder substance and tin foil" had ruled out the possibility of drugs.

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Although the Greenvale investigation is being headed by a senior investigating officer, Mr Murray runs the department.

SDLP councillor Denise Mullen

Ms Mullen, an SDLP councillor, said she lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman about the treatment of Mr McElhatton yesterday.

A spokesman for the ombudsman said that while “the issue is not something we are taking forward in terms of her complaint we are making further enquiries”.

Read More: First police withdrew from Greenvale Hotel St Patrick's night crush

The spokesman also confirmed that it has received “a range correspondence on this issue from members of the public”.

Ms Mullen said Mr Murray must now step aside.

“I think he should remove himself from the investigation at the very least,” she said.

The call comes after an online petition headed ‘Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray should resign’ had gathered more than 4,600 signatures by this morning. The PSNI declined to comment on the petition.

From left, Connor Currie (16), Lauren Bullock (17) and Morgan Barnard (17) died following a crush outside a St Patrick's Day disco at the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown

Meanwhile, it has emerged the PSNI de-arrested Michael McElhatton minutes after he issued a public statement denying involvement with drugs and accused police of trying to "blacken" his name.

The statement was issued to the Press Association by a spokeswoman representing the hotel owner last Wednesday.

Concerns have been raised about the manner in which he was arrested on the false suspicion of drugs offences.

Mr McElhatton was arrested in relation to the drugs allegations on the morning of Wednesday March 20 while already being held in custody on suspicion of manslaughter.

Police sent the substance for “fast tracked forensic examination” but made details of the arrest public before the results were known.

Details of his second arrest emerged via a PSNI tweet last Wednesday.

A press release was then sent to media outlets at 3.52pm.

At 5.52pm a statement was issued by Mr McElhatton, who was still being detained, through a spokeswoman strongly denying any involvement with drugs.

Sources say that four minutes after the statement was sent to PA the hotel owner was told by officers he was being de-arrested.

At exactly 6pm the PSNI issued its own statement confirming that the suspect - Mr McElhatton - had been de-arrested.

Several hours later Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton issued a statement defending the PSNI’s actions.

A spokesman for the PSNI last night said: “The 52 year old arrested last Wednesday morning on suspicion of possession of a Class A drug with intent to supply was later de-arrested at 5.56pm that day following fast track forensic examination of the suspicious package.

“Investigative actions are conducted in line with PACE codes of practice and not in response to commentary in the public domain.”

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