Police must learn from failings in Harry Holland case

The murder of father of four Harry Holland ten years ago was a horrendous crime which caused a deep sense of shock and left his family traumatised and heartbroken.

The popular west Belfast grocer was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver after being targeted by a gang of teenagers outside his home in September 2007.

Mr Holland's family subsequently felt let down by the justice system after murder charges were dropped against two of those involved in the deadly incident and they were sentenced for lesser crimes.

Stephen McKee, who admitted murdering 65-year-old Mr Holland, received a tariff of just 12 years.

The Holland family was understandably angry at how the case was handled, in particular by the Public Prosecution Service.

Now a Police Ombudsman report has shown that the PSNI also had questions to answer in relation to actions taken before Mr Holland was murdered.

According to the report, police failed to respond to a 999 call made about Stephen McKee and others in the hours before the attack on Mr Holland.

The person who made the call told police they had been verbally abused by a group of teenagers and one of them had chased the caller with a knife.

The call was categorised as a priority but was later downgraded to a `normal response'.

The Police Ombudsman found that the response to this call was `inadequate' and should have been acted upon right away.

What is especially concerning is that earlier that day, police had met community representatives to discuss anti-social behaviour and the name of Stephen McKee was mentioned to officers.

Anyone with concerns was advised to report them immediately to the PSNI yet when someone did just that, officers failed to act with a sense of urgency.

This is quite alarming given the efforts being made at the time to build confidence in the PSNI and encourage greater engagement from the local community.

We do not know for certain what would have happened if the police had responded immediately to the 999 call, but we do know that within hours, Mr Holland was subjected to a vicious attack by Stephen McKee and lost his life.

His daughter, Sarah, said this week she believed her father might still be alive if it was not for a `litany of failures' by police.

An officer who acted as the controller of the 999 call has been disciplined and we must hope that the police service, at all levels, now recognises that failing to act quickly and effectively could have the most grave consequences.