Northern Ireland

Harry Holland: Officer disciplined over actions on night of murder

Harry Holland died after being stabbed in the head with a screwdriver
Image caption Harry Holland was stabbed with a screwdriver near his home in west Belfast in September 2007

A police officer has been disciplined following an investigation into police actions on the night west Belfast man Harry Holland was murdered.

The 65-year-old was stabbed in the head near his Norfolk Drive home on 11 September 2007 just before midnight.

A Police Ombudsman investigation has found police "failed to adequately respond" to an earlier 999 call about teenagers armed with a knife.

One of those present was identified as Stephen McKee who murdered Mr Holland.

"Police policy is that any call which reports violence has been threatened, likely to happen or is happening should get an emergency response," Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Dr Michael Maguire said.

"This did not happen. This was a significant failing and fell short of the commitment police had given to the community a matter of hours earlier."

In August 2009, McKee, who was then an 18-year-old from Ballymurphy Road, was told he must serve at least 12 years of a life sentence. However last year, Mr Holland's family said they felt let down by the judicial system after learning he was eligible for a pre-release scheme.

The Police Ombudsman's Office said in a letter to the Holland family that records support that at 22:05 on 11 September 2007, a member of the public rang 999 to report an incident in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast. It said later this incident was linked by the PSNI major investigation team to the investigation into the murder of Mr Holland.

Image caption Flowers were left outside Mr Holland's grocery shop following his murder

At 22:05 on 11 September, 2007, a caller reported they had been "verbally abused by a group of teenagers" and one of them had "chased the caller with a knife".

One of the people present was identified by the caller as Stephen McKee.

The caller provided the name of the street where the incident happened, but did not "provide the address of the house they were calling from for fear of repercussions". They confirmed they would make a call to police and referenced that Community Watch had given that advice.

The call was initially categorised as a priority, but was later "re-categorised to a normal response". The Police Ombudsman said descriptions of the teenagers were circulated.

Image caption The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland investigated a complaint by the Holland family

The police officer who acted as a controller for the report and was responsible for assigning resources was interviewed under a misconduct caution by Police Ombudsman investigators.

He said he had acted on the instruction of the call handling unit and named a police sergeant, who has since retired, as the officer he believed he had spoken with.

The controller "referred to a lack of available resources in the area and that it was his understanding the call handling unit may have spoken further with the 999 caller".

When the Police Ombudsman made enquiries with the sergeant, he could not "recall this specific 999 call, nor if any conversation took place with the police controller who named him".

The police officer who recategorised the call was disciplined, but "no further action could be taken in respect of the named sergeant as he is now retired".

The Police Ombudsman's report found that evidence supports that the police "failed to adequately respond to the 999 call made to police at 10:05pm on 11 September 2007".

It said "this aspect" of the Holland family's complaint "is substantiated and a police officer has been subject to disciplinary action for the failure to prioritise the call according to policy".

It said "this failure" was "particularly concerning" given advice provided by police during a meeting earlier on 11 September 2007 with community representatives which was "for members of the public to report directly to police any further information so that police could then take the appropriate action".

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