12 January 2006

PSNI settle out of court over false claims


by Francesca Ryan

A West Belfast man who was falsely accused of driving a stolen car on live TV has accepted an out of court settlement from the PSNI.

Stephen Magennis was amongst a group of Sinn Féin supporters attending the count of the Assembly elections poll at Dromore Leisure Centre in November 2003. As he left the complex the PSNI surrounded his car and accused the Poleglass man of travelling in a stolen vehicle.

“The cops surrounded my car back and front but waited a few minutes before they would tell me what the problem was," Stephen told the Andersonstown News.

“It was completely stage-managed. Then, when the TV crews, reporters and cameras came over, the cops said my car had been reported stolen that day.
“I told them I'd had the car for almost a year and it was taxed, insured and MOT’d. Then my mobile started ringing and people were telling me I was live on the news being accused of driving a stolen car."

As chairman of the Colin neighbourhood's Safer Neighbourhood Project (SNP), Stephen believes the incident was a joint attack on his character and the Sinn Féin election team.
“This was more a dig at me and my work at tackling car crime and anti-social behaviour, it was an attempt to wreck my character by saying I was a joyrider, and to criminalise Councillor Paul Butler's election team who were travelling in our convoy."

The case was due to be heard at Banbridge Courthouse on Monday, but the PSNI agreed an out of court settlement and will pay Stephen financial compensation.

“In my eyes this is a victory. I had nothing to hide, my car wasn't stolen and the PSNI knew that. They issued an apology over the airwaves the same night the incident happened but they never apologised to me personally. This is as close as I will get to an admission of guilt," said Stephen.

“This was a case of wrongful detention and I would encourage all of those who were held back that day to seek legal advice to get some sort of redress for the incident."

Sinn Féin's Paul Butler said the incident was a clear case of harassment and has called on electoral officials not to use Dromore Leisure Centre in future elections.

“This case proves that the PSNI's sole intent was the harassment of Sinn Féin and its supporters as they were leaving the election count. There are those within the PSNI who continue to follow the old agenda of the RUC of harassing republicans.

“Future counts should be moved out of Dromore so that candidates can conduct their election in a safe and neutral environment."
The PSNI declined to comment on the issue.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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