AN Omagh man has been cleared of charges relating to a dramatic incident in which undercover police were claimed to have smashed the window of his van with a gun.
Matthew McLean (34) with an address listed as HMP Maghaberry, was found not guilty of dangerous driving, obstructing police and failing to stop at an accident.
The contested case was heard at Omagh Magistrates Court last week.
The court was told that the police officers were involved in an undercover operation with the objective of ‘intercepting a suspected drug transport’ on August 16, 2021.
They were in a white Peugeot van dressed as regular workmen.
The verdict was found following a contest of the recollection of events by two police officers and McLean on August 16, 2021.
At around 3.30pm on the Rock Road, Omagh, they observed a white van with a registration that matched the vehicle they were looking for.
The two officers agreed to intercept, and pulled out across the road in front of the white van which was driving towards them.
A sergeant told the court that he brandished a ‘high vis’ police hat, but claimed the white van accelerated towards the police vehicle and tried to break through a small gap between it and the hedge.
However, the suspect van went up on a slope and ‘landed on the bonnet’ of the police vehicle.
The sergeant then took his pistol, which he said was in a holster, and got onto the bonnet of McLean’s vehicle.
He attempted to smash the window of the van, as the officers identified themselves as ‘armed police’.
The sergeant then said the suspect clambered out of the driver-side window and jumped over the hedge into a field.
He added that following a chase, and the other constable had detained the suspect, who identified himself as McLean, in a person’s front garden on Church Road.
It was claimed that the sergeant had been injured after hitting his head on the windshield when the suspect van collided with the police.
Defence counsel, Liam McStay alongside defence solicitor, Michael Fahy argued that inconsistencies in the officers’ accounts undermined the prosecution’s case.
They made particular reference to the ‘high-vis’ police hat the officers claimed was initially brandished to the suspect.
Mr McStay claimed that the defendant did not see the hat at all.
He also queried why the sergeant failed to mention the gun in his original statement, noting it was ‘significant’ that a firearm was produced.
The police sergeant informed Mr McStay that whilst it was in his hand, the gun was ‘never actually drawn from the holster’.
In response, Mr McStay said that McLean claimed the officer used the gun as a blunt object in an attempt to smash the window.
The police sergeant wholly rejected this, stating that the gun ‘could have went off’.
The second constable said he couldn’t recall the sergeant having a gun in his hand.
Concerns over consistency arose as the constable said that during the foot chase, he let McLean ‘out of his sight’ for a few seconds.
Mr McStay challenged this point due to the constable’s original statement saying that McLean ‘was always in his sight’.
The constable apologised and told the judge it was ‘an error at the time’.
In his testimony, McLean asserted that he was unaware of the officers’ identities and mistook them for masked assailants. He claimed that he swerved out of instinct when the officers approached aggressively, attempting to smash his windows.
McLean further claimed that the sergeant had used the gun to try break open the window, and he only realised they were police officers when they caught up with him after the foot chase.
After considering all statements and evidence presented, Deputy District Judge Trainor concluded that McLean had a reasonable excuse to flee from what he perceived as a threatening situation. As a result, all charges against McLean were dismissed.
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