The problem with witnesses..

Is that they can’t be relied upon to accurately remember events. Thankfully the Police Ombudsman’s Office had some actual evidence to work with in the investigation of the death of a pedestrian struck by a police landrover in June 2005. So, despite the many witnesses who told the Ombudsman that they were “quite clear that they did not hear a siren” from the landrover which hit Jim McMenamin, who died from his injuries, the investigation concluded that recordings of the in-car radio communication proved that the siren was sounding both before, and after, the accident.From the Ombudsman’s statement today

As a result of house-to-house inquiries, media appeals and following meetings within the community the investigators interviewed a number of people who were in the area at the time of the incident. Police documentation was also seized, including copies of the radio transmissions.

Of the people who offered witnesses statements only one person actually saw the collision. According to the witness, he had been driving along the Springfield Road when he saw the police ‘jeep’ with blue lights flashing pass him on the other side of the road. When he looked in his rear view mirror he saw was a young man standing at the junction, then saw him run across the road before being hit.

However, other witnesses said they saw the speeding Land Rover pass them and while it has its blue lights on, it had no siren.

The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala OLoan, said her investigators have listened to the radio transmissions which they seized shortly after the incident:

“The sirens can be clearly heard when an officer in the Land Rover responded to the call on his radio and almost one minute later after the collision when he requested for an ambulance.

We have checked and established that there was no other emergency vehicle in the area at the time. From that fact, and the volume of the noise of the siren, we have concluded that the vehicle did in fact have its siren on.

One slight point to highlight though. The Ombudsman also had something to say about those witnesses.

I am aware that many of the witnesses we talked to were quite clear that they did not hear a siren. I am also very conscious that the issue of whether or not the siren was on became a major issue in the media: maybe the subsequent coverage effected people’s recollection of events,” she said.

If the subsequent media coverage might have effected people’s recollection, so too could their own prejudices..

Sinn Fein has said local residents were concerned about police behaviour during the incident.

“There is serious disquiet in the local community, shared by the family, that the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) handling of Saturday`s incident gives cause for real concern,” the West Belfast MP said.

“Many serious questions need to be answered about the circumstances surrounding the killing of Jim McMenamin, the role of the PSNI and its behaviour immediately after the incident.

“The family wants no cover-up. They want the truth.”

..and, perhaps, so too could the involvement of third-parties in gathering those witness statements.

I am appealing to anyone who saw anything or who has any information to bring that forward and speak to the Office of the Police Ombudsman which is carrying out an investigation into this incident.

“It is important that this is done in conjunction with a solicitor and members of my staff have this morning spoken both the Office of the Police Ombudsman and to local community groups to try and ensure that all of this is done speedily.”