A NORTH Belfast man who was seriously injured by police during a fracas in a bar – but later charged with GBH against the officers who beat him – spoke of his relief yesterday after he was acquitted by a court.

Martin Friel, from the New Lodge, described the events which followed an incident at the Unicorn bar in Castle Street in January 2000 as a “living hell”.

Mr Friel received nine staples to a head wound as well as stitches to his nose and suffered severe bruising to his upper body following a brawl during which police came under fire from bottles and glasses.

Mr Friel, who maintains he was not part of the dispute, said he “panicked” and ran for cover to the toilets but said that as police cleared the bar a number of officers found him hiding and “beat him to a pulp” before arresting him.

He was later charged with GBH against two officers although Belfast magistrates court last week directed an acquittal after it emerged one officer had no visible signs of injury while it could not be proven that the other had sustained his injury at the hands of Mr Friel.

It also emerged in court that a police baton report relevant to the case had gone missing and has still not been found.

Mr Friel’s solicitors are now pursuing civil proceedings for unlawful arrest and assault and battery.

Speaking yesterday Mr Friel said: “The whole episode has been a nightmare and very distressing. But I am relieved I have been vindicated and that it is all over – but I am still determined to pursue this further.”

Madden and Finucane solicitors said: “This was one of the most extreme examples of the use of excessive force, on arrest, by PSNI officers I have seen.

“We will be strenuously pursuing civil proceedings in the high court on behalf of our client.

“One of the most alarming aspects of the case was the police’s inability to trace the baton report which to this day remains missing.”

A PSNI spokesman declined to comment further on the case as, he said, the matter had gone through the criminal justice system and the issue had been dealt with in open court.