Police officers photographed and manipulated body of suicide victim

- BBC News

Police officers photographed and manipulated body of suicide victim

Two Northern Ireland police officers have been investigated for more than three years over allegations they manipulated a suicide victims body and shared photos and a video online.

One of the officers has been suspended with full pay while the Police Ombudsman investigates.

It is part of a wider investigation encompassing 11 separate but related incidents spanning several years.

Several arrests have been made, NIs Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson said.

Warning: Graphic content

"There are multiple suspects, including police officers and civilians, in Northern Ireland as well as in England," Mrs Anderson added.

The investigation is looking at a range of possible offences including misconduct, harassment and the suspected supply of drugs.

Ms Anderson said the allegations around the two Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers were harrowing.

The victims sister told BBC NI Spotlight that her brothers genitalia had been exposed in one of the photographs.

"No family should have had to endure the pain and suffering that has been caused by these images," Ms Anderson said.

The family of the suicide victim from Belfast has spoken anonymously to BBC NIs Spotlight team about the alleged actions of the two officers, who were at the scene after their loved ones body was discovered in 2017.

They said the allegations have worsened their trauma, while the familys lawyer compared the case to that of the two Met Police constables jailed for taking and sharing photographs of murdered sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry.

The mans father said he was "physically sick to this day" over the allegations.

"Those police officers were in the house while I was there - asked me to leave the room - and I done everything they asked me to at the time.

"And all that keeps coming back to me is why did I leave the room, because that must have been when they done it, when they took the photographs."

The PSNI said it expected "the highest standards of professionalism and integrity" from its officers and staff.

The father was first informed of the allegations by Police Ombudsman investigators 18 months after his son died.

"They informed me that two police officers had been questioned regarding my son and photographs that might have been taken of my son," he told BBC Spotlight.

He said the family was told "it was a very serious affair and we werent to discuss it".

The full details of what was alleged to have happened at the scene were drip-fed to the family over a number of meetings.

The victims sister told Spotlight the two officers allegedly moved the victims body around the room in certain poses for pictures and for a video.

The family also heard they added to pictures "an exclamation bubble coming out of my brothers mouth making fun of the way that he was".

The sister added that, during one meeting, the ombudsman and a Scotland Yard officer told her that her brothers genitals had been exposed in one of the photographs.

The same officer also allegedly photoshopped a speech bubble onto one of the photographs of the body and shared it on social media.

She also said she believed the word "taig", a derogatory term for Catholics, was among the language used in the speech bubble.

The sister added that she could not comprehend why anyone would be so cruel as to mock a suicide victim.

In the five years since the suicide, no charges have been brought against the two police officers but a file has been sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

The familys lawyer Pádraig Ó Muirigh said the five-year wait for justice was unacceptable.

He pointed to the case of Metropolitan Police officers Deniz Jaffer and Jamie Lewis who were jailed for two years after they photographed the bodies of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, and shared the images on WhatsApp.

"I appreciate some investigations are more complex than others but were five years on," said Mr Ó Muirigh.

"Weve had a similar case across the water in similar circumstances and that case has moved on."

He added: "There will be huge public interest in this case and I think the family and the wider public has a right to know why someone has been suspended so long on full pay."

Northern Irelands Police Ombudsman said it was "vitally important that every aspect of this case is fully and thoroughly investigated".

Ms Anderson said the incident was part of a "much broader and more complex case encompassing investigations into 11 separate and related incidents spanning several years".

"Many of these matters became apparent between 2017 and 2020, either through new complaints or as a result of enquiries by my investigators. The most recent relevant complaint was received in 2020."

She added that:

"After the criminal aspects have been concluded, I will consider recommendations to the chief constable in terms of disciplinary action," Ms Anderson said.

"All of those impacted by these incidents can be assured that we have given this case the priority and meticulous attention that it deserves, and we will continue to do so."  

BBC Spotlight has contacted the solicitor representing the police officer suspended on full pay for comment.

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton confirmed an officer had been suspended while the investigation was ongoing.

"We expect the highest standards of professionalism and integrity from all of our police officers and staff in accordance with the standards contained in the Police Service of Northern Irelands code of ethics," he said.

"Breaches of the law and the code will be thoroughly investigated and robustly dealt with in accordance with the procedures laid out in our conduct regulations.

"I would encourage anyone who suspects a member of our service of abusing their position, in any manner, to report it to us, or to the ombudsmans office.

"You can be assured that the matter will be investigated thoroughly."

The sister of the suicide victim said she had lost all confidence and trust in the PSNI because of the way the case has been handled.

"I couldnt even lift the phone and dial 999 now if I was in an emergency. I wouldnt want them near me or my family because they cant be trusted."

These latest revelations about alleged police misconduct follow a BBC Spotlight investigation, Police, WhatsApp and Whistleblowers, which broadcasted allegations made by two PSNI whistleblowers.

They alleged serious misconduct and neglect by some officers in one of the largest police districts in Northern Ireland.

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