Strand Road PSNI station in Derry
A PSNI statement on the high profile arrest and detention of a Derry dental nurse “appears to bear no resemblance to the facts”, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said.
The Foyle MP vowed to raise the arrest in Derry on Tuesday with the PSNI directly after the 27-year-old’s solicitor issued a blistering and lengthy response following the operation.
In a statement, Mr Eastwood said: “I have spoken with solicitors representing this woman and share a number of concerns about how this case has been handled, including the issuing of a public statement which appears to bear no resemblance to the facts.
“I will be raising the matter directly with the PSNI.”
Ciaran Shiels, the woman’s solicitor, described the police operation, carried out by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, close to the Strand Road in the city centre as a “distasteful and deplorable abuse of powers”.
Mr Shiels of Madden and Finucane, said that following the midmorning operation, the woman was interviewed under police caution for just 11 minutes, six of which he said, included normal introductions.
The PSNI said it would be “inappropriate” to comment as “the investigation is ongoing”.
The woman was released on police bail.
The solicitor said a statement issued by the police around 2.30pm after his client’s release and linking her to the INLA and drugs was “libellous”, attacking “her character in the most obscene, obsequious and unfair manner”.
“The true position… was that our client already was released from police custody at 2.09pm and was being driven home from Strand Road Police station to recover from her ordeal and to be with her family,” Mr Shiels said.
“This 27-year-old woman is an experienced and well-respected dental nurse who has worked for a number of years in a city centre practice extremely proximate to Strand Road. She has no criminal record. She has never been involved in criminality,” he added.
She had never been in a police station “much less been arrested or interviewed under caution”, the solicitor said.
He described how police arrived at 10.30am in the morning outside the dental surgery in two Land Rovers and two cars along with a dog and a dog handler.
“In front of bemused patients and colleagues, our client was singled out by officers. She was dressed in her dental scrubs and was assisting a dentist with a patient in treatment.
“Her nearby car was searched and she was then arrested in tears (not under Terrorist Legislation) under the ordinary provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and brought to Strand Road.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the PSNI linked the arrest to the INLA in Derry, describing it as “part of a proactive police investigation”. She was arrested “on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of a Class B controlled drug”.
Mr Shiels said the woman’s family home where she lives with her elderly father and brother was searched by a unit of the same officers.
“A number of mobile phones and two USB devices belonging to herself and family members were seized. Nothing at all of an incriminatory nature was found by police, either on her person, her vehicle, her home or her workplace,” the solicitor said.
“This operation yielded no drugs, no paraphernalia, no tick-lists, no cash, no wrappings, no scales and certainly nothing indicating support for the INLA or any paramilitary gang.”
Mr Shiels said she answered “every single question” and “complete assistance was offered and provided by her to police”.
“Not a single shred of incriminatory evidence was referred to. Not a single allegation of any kind was put to her, and at no stage whatsoever, was the INLA or any terrorist or organised crime group even mentioned,” Mr Shiels said, adding that the PSNI statement was then put out after her release.
“Even at the point of her release, police did not give her the basic warning or courtesy of informing her that this statement had been released to the public concerning her ordeal,” he said.
Madden and Finucane “strongly suspect that this arrest and media publicity operation was ordered following the release on bail of a significantly older half-brother of our client late on Monday after a particularly contentious bail application”.
The solicitor’s firm said it will be raising the matter with the Police Ombudsman and will begin civil action.
The issue was raised in the Dáil on Thursday afternoon by deputy Eamon O’Cuiv.