Northern Ireland

Former Police Ombudsman investigator reaches `substantial' settlement in claim for damages against PSNI

Gerald Harris sued over being detained during inquiries into how the watchdog dealt with a historic case
Gerald Harris sued over being detained during inquiries into how the watchdog dealt with a historic case Gerald Harris sued over being detained during inquiries into how the watchdog dealt with a historic case

A former Police Ombudsman investigator arrested on suspicion of conspiring to pervert the course of justice has reached a “substantial” settlement in his claim for damages against the PSNI.

Gerald Harris sued over being detained during inquiries into how the watchdog dealt with a historic case involving four teenagers ultimately acquitted of murdering a British soldier in Derry.

Mr Harris’ action was stayed at the High Court on Monday on confidential terms which include the defendant paying his legal costs.

His solicitor, Gavin Booth of Phoenix Law, described the outcome as a complete vindication.

Speaking outside court, Mr Booth said: “We welcome the substantial settlement of our client’s case for wrongful arrest.”

Mr Harris, a retired detective who previously served with West Midlands Police, was part of a team in the Ombudsman’s Office which examined allegations of RUC involvement in crimes during the Troubles. 

One the cases related to the so-called ‘Derry Four’ who, as teenagers, were charged with the murder of Lt Stephen Kirby in the city in 1979.

They fled across the border and remained outside Northern Ireland until they were acquitted in 1998.

A subsequent probe by the ombudsman led to two former RUC detectives being prosecuted in connection with a complaint about the interrogation of the teenagers.

In 2014, the two ex-officers’ trial was dramatically halted and the PSNI was called in to look at how the watchdog handled the complaint. 

By that stage, Mr Harris had left the ombudsman's office and taken up a new position as a staff investigator with a police force in England.

However, in October 2016 he was arrested at his home in Birmingham by PSNI officers and flown to Belfast to be questioned on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and misconduct in public office.

Mr Harris was released without charge and later informed that he would not be prosecuted for any alleged offence. 

But according to the statement of claim, his job in England was terminated while he was detained in Belfast.

He took legal action against the chief constable of the PSNI, seeking damages for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and breaching his right to liberty.

Further claims were made for negligence and loss of earnings.

His lawyers contended that he lost his job as a direct consequence of his arrest and detention, leaving him unable to gain employment with any other police force and irreparably diminishing his career prospects.

In court on Monday, Mr Justice McAlinden was informed that the action had been resolved on confidential terms, without any admission of liability.

The judge confirmed: “The case is stayed (and) the defendant will discharge the plaintiff’s costs.”

Following the announcement Mr Booth added: “Mr Harris has been vindicated as a result of this settlement.

“He had a distinguished, long-serving and exemplary career with the police and then the Police Ombudsman.

“Throughout his career he received a number of commendations for good police work, along with medals for long-service and good conduct.”