A police officer who punched a man several times across the head while in the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) has been acquitted of one charge of common assault.

On February 6, 2021, police had taken Blaine Duffy to the SWAH following his arrest for another matter in which he sustained serious injuries to his hands.

While being seen for his injuries, he was quite agitated, according to Una Sloan, a nurse in the Emergency Department (ED) at the SWAH.

Mrs. Sloan said Mr. Duffy “didn’t really want to be there” and was verbally aggressive, looking for further pain relief.

Duffy was also trying to pull drips from his arm, and due to his behaviour, police officers were called into the room at the ED to assist.

It was at the appearance of the officers that Mr. Duffy became more aggressive, said Mrs. Sloan, and was fighting against the officers.

In her evidence, Julie McCarroll, a Senior Healthcare Assistant, said when the officers came in Mr. Duffy started cursing and asking what they were doing there.

She said it made the whole situation “a lot worse”.

As Mr. Duffy became more aggressive and violent, the three officers tried to restrain him, with one – Constable Carson Hill, with an address of PSNI Kesh – punching Mr. Duffy on the head.

Mrs. Sloan said the whole thing was getting hard to watch, and when she saw the punches, she said it was enough.

During cross-examination, when asked if she could hear what was said between Mr. Duffy and Constable Hill before the punches, she said she could not, and also said she did not see Mr. Duffy attempting to bite Constable Hill.

“I just remember seeing punches and saying, ‘That is enough’, and thinking, ‘This is not right’,” said Mrs. Sloan.

Miss McCarroll said she could hear the punches impacting Mr. Duffy, and there was a red marking on his face after.

She said Constable Hill should not have punched Mr. Duffy as he was a “vulnerable man, whether he was under arrest or not”.

She continued: “Nobody deserved to get punched.”

She did say Mr. Duffy was pulling and biting at his stitches, which was an indication of how unpredictably he was acting, and that he was trying to climb out of the bed and move towards the officers.

When asked about the incident by District Judge Steven Keown whether it was the type of force, or the amount used that she had an issue with, she said the officer “could have used force in a different way”.

In their evidence, Constables Adam Blair and Andrew Griffith who were also present said Mr. Duffy was acting as aggressively as he possibly could throughout the incident.

Constable Griffith said there was a fear for the officers’ safety, and that of the hospital staff.

Following the evidence from the four witnesses, the prosecution said their case was how Constable Hill dealt with what he was facing from Mr. Duffy, and the three to four strikes to the face were unlawful assault and not an appropriate manner of restraint.

Constable Hill’s barrister, Ciaran Roddy, told the court the prosecution case was weak, and the evidence provided did not meet the threshold to convict.

He added that the officer acted dutifully and that self-defence also comes into the equation.

In his findings, Judge Keown said it was an unusual case, and having heard all the evidence, the perception of the nursing staff caring for the patient was different from that of the police.

He said it was “hard to imagine a more violent situation” where Mr. Duffy was biting stitches, and there was blood everywhere.

However, he said the statements could not do justice to the “chaotic scenes”, and in his view, there was a serious risk of violence, and there was no situation where the force used by Constable Hill could be viewed as excessive, and he therefore dismissed the charge.