Police chief’s “deep regret” that officers quizzed over man’s death still serving

Ombudsman says evidence points to police involved in deadly assault on John Hemsworth

Connla Young. Irish News (Belfast). Thursday, November 24, 2016

A senior PSNI officer has said it is a “matter of deep regret” that officers who may have committed offenses connected to the death of a man two decades ago have not been held accountable.

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris was speaking after it emerged that some of those quizzed about a 1997 assault on John Hemsworth continue to serve in the PSNI.

Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire, left, said it found new evidence placing the US national in the same west Belfast location as police officers at the time of the assault.

Dr. Maguire believes this confirms the conclusions of an inquest, which found it was highly probable that one or more police officers were responsible for the injuries which contributed to Mr. Hemsworth’s death.

The inquest heard evidence which described his injuries as being consistent with having been struck by a cylindrical object similar to a police baton.

Mr. Hemsworth died in January 1998, six months after he was assaulted as he made his way home from a night out at St Gall’s GAA club.

The 39-year-old said he was assaulted by members of the RUC as he walked along Malcolmson Street off Springfield Road on July 7, 1997.

There had been rioting in the area that night and petrol bomb attacks on Springfield Road police station.

Mr. Hemsworth was later admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital with a broken jaw.

He fell ill later that year and died on New Years’ Day.

Two police investigations were unable to establish if officers were responsible for the attack and the

Public Prosecution Service later directed that there should be no


The Police Ombudsman interviewed 16 RUC officers from the force’s ‘Blue Section’, some of whom were in Malcolmson Street that night.

However, none said they couldn’t

recall the incident.

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris last night said the force accepted the Police ombudsman’s findings.

“It is a matter of deep regret that individual culpability for the assault on Mr. Hemsworth has not been identified and those police officers who may have committed offenses have not been held to account,” he said.

“I would take this opportunity to appeal to anyone who may have information in relation to this to come forward and contact the office of the Police Ombudsman.”

Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire said none of the officers questioned admitted assaulting Mr. Hemsworth or implicated any of their colleagues in the attack.

“The medical evidence is that the injuries sustained by Mr. Hemsworth were the sole underlying cause of his death in 1998,” he said.

“Further, the available evidence leads me to conclude that those injuries were sustained as a consequence of Mr. Hemsworth being assaulted by police officers.

“I am concerned that throughout the course of three investigations and an inquest no officer who was present has been able to recall the incident.”