A police officer has been dismissed for “gross misconduct” after taking a bike belonging to a vulnerable man.
The bike, worth an estimated £500, was found at the officer’s home.
Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson said the officer “had taken advantage of the man’s vulnerabilities and seized an opportunity to take the bike for his personal use”.
An investigation by her office found the officer had been working a night shift when he took the bike from storage at the local police station, placed it in his car and took it home.
Several months earlier, the same officer had spoken to the bike’s owner after receiving a report of concern for his safety. The officer had already retrieved the bike from a local park, where it was reported to have been abandoned.
The man said he had fallen off the bike and thrown it away in anger. He was intoxicated at the time and was known by police to be vulnerable, but was able to provide the make, model and colour of the bike.
Despite this, the officer refused to return the bike unless the man came to the police station when sober with proof of purchase.
The man never called back and there was no record that the officer made any further attempts to contact him or to establish the bike’s ownership.
The bike was eventually returned to its owner after being found at the officer’s home during a police search organised after a sergeant raised concerns in March 2021.
The owner, who has since died, made a complaint about the officer who took it.
Under interview by Police Ombudsman investigators, the officer said that as the man had been unable to describe the bike’s suspension or brakes, he had not been satisfied it belonged to him.
He also claimed to be unaware of police procedures for lost and found property, and said he had been told by a sergeant to leave the bike in the police station for a few months, and then either dispose of it or take it.
He also contended there had been two sergeants in the room when one stated: “If you don’t take it, I’ll take it home.”
However, the Police Ombudsman said she found the officer’s account to be neither reliable nor credible.
Mrs Anderson noted he made no record in his notebook or on police systems of having taken it home, and there was no other evidence that either sergeant had advised he could do that.
She also said the officer was likely to have known the man would be unable to provide proof of ownership, and noted the officer already owned a bike of the same make and would have known its value.
After completing their investigation, Police Ombudsman investigators submitted a file to the PPS, which subsequently directed the officer should not be prosecuted for theft as the evidential test had not been met.
This was due to a number of factors, including that the bike’s owner had died and had not provided a statement before his death, and because the bike could no longer be located.
The Police Ombudsman then submitted a misconduct file to the PSNI’s Professional Standards Department recommending a misconduct hearing be held to consider the officer’s conduct. She noted his attempt to place blame on colleagues was an aggravating factor.
The recommendation was accepted by the PSNI, and the officer was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.