Northern Ireland

Police officers disciplined over duty of care failure after Mairead McCallion death

Mairead McCallion
Image caption Mairead McCallion died the day after she claimed her partner assaulted her in February 2014

Two police officers have been disciplined for not seeking medical attention for a woman who died after telling them her head had been hit against a wall during an assault.

Mairead McCallion was taken into police custody and her partner was arrested in 2014 after he allegedly attacked her.

She was rushed to hospital hours later after being sick in the back of a police car, and died the next day.

A Police Ombudsman's report says the officers failed in their duty of care.

It says they did not alert a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) doctor who examined her that Ms McCallion, from Omagh in County Tyrone, had claimed to have suffered a head injury.

This was in spite of the fact police officers are taught to immediately seek medical attention when dealing with a possible head injury.

Urgent

The family of 36-year-old Ms McCallion said they believe she might still be alive if the doctor had been alerted and she had been taken to hospital immediately.

"She told the police officers her partner had pulled her hair, banged her head against the wall and threw her into the garden," her sister Patricia O'Brien said.

Image caption Patricia O'Brien said she was shocked that clear police procedures were not followed in her sister's case

"She had clumps of hair visibly hanging off her shoulders - that should have been taken very seriously.

"Had that have been taken seriously, Mairead should have been given urgent medical attention.

"That did not happen."

Ms McCallion had previously suffered domestic abuse, and had been drinking on the day she told officers she had been assaulted in February 2014.

Unfamiliar

The Police Ombudsman's report says that made it even more important that a PSNI doctor who examined her at Omagh police station was told about her head injury claims.

As part of their training, police officers are told that alcohol consumption can mask symptoms of a head injury such as slurred speech.

The officers who spoke to Ms McCallion when she claimed to have been assaulted told the ombudsman's investigators that they assumed she would make the doctor aware of her head injury.

The ombudsman says that was wrong, and they had a duty to inform the doctor and other colleagues.

Image caption A doctor examined Ms McCallion at Omagh police station but was told by officers about her head injury claims

"It was inappropriate that the officers put the onus on Mairead to pass on the details of her injuries in an unfamiliar setting to an unfamiliar doctor, especially in light of the fact she was apparently intoxicated," the report says.

"Head injuries can cause symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication, and as the woman had been drinking, it was particularly important that the doctor was informed about the head injury."

Shocked

After being examined by the police doctor and having her injuries photographed, Ms McCallion was driven to a friend's house by the police officer she had initially told about the head injury.

The ambulance service was called when she was sick in the back of the car.

She was then rushed to hospital, but died the next afternoon.

Ms McCallion's family said they were shocked that clear procedures for dealing with reports of head injuries were not followed.

"Mairead was showing all the signs [associated with a head injury] and they put it down to alcohol," Ms O'Brien said.

Image caption Mairead McCallion had a history of suffering domestic abuse

"They made an assumption on Mairead.

"She was a very vulnerable young woman and at her most vulnerable point in her life she was not taken seriously, she was failed.

Changed

"They failed in their duty of care. They did not follow their own procedures.

"They could have got Mairead medical attention, that might have made a difference.

"As a family we are left wondering, and will always wonder now, would that have made a difference, would that have saved Mairead's life?"

Ms McCallion's partner was arrested and charged with murder, but the charges were later dropped.

The PSNI has accepted a recommendation from the ombudsman and changed its policy on how officers should treat anyone who reports a head injury.

In future, they will be taken directly to a hospital for assessment, and not to a police doctor.

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