Police had justifiable reasons for planning to search the isolated home of an elderly woman as part of a major anti-drugs operation in County Tyrone, a Police Ombudsman investigation has concluded.
The woman said she was shocked and upset when a police search team turned up at her house earlier this year and told her they were there to search for drugs.
She later lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office about the officer who ordered the search, stating that simple checks would have shown there was no need to visit her property as she had never been involved in drugs or any type of criminality.
While enquiries by a Police Ombudsman investigator found that there was indeed no suspicion of the woman having done anything wrong, he also established that the police had been following up on a legitimate line of enquiry.
A number of factors led police to suspect the house may have been being used by criminal elements, including records which suggested that it had been unoccupied for a number of years.
The investigator noted that police had adopted a careful approach during the operation. Officers had been tasked to check the property and assess whether a search was required, and to do so without gaining rapid entry to the house so as not to cause undue alarm.
When it became clear there was no suspicion of criminal involvement by the occupier, the house was not searched, although police did check outbuildings in case they were being used without her knowledge. They found nothing of concern.
The investigator also noted that officers had called the woman’s daughter, advised that her mother was upset and asked her to come over. Two officers remained with the woman until her daughter’s arrival.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that police had justifiable reasons for checking the property, had made suitable checks before doing so and had conducted the operation in a proportionate manner.