Two men are to be charged with gross negligence manslaughter over the deaths of three teenagers during a St Patrick’s Day disco crush in the North three years ago.
The men — aged 55 and 43 — will also be charged with contravening health and safety laws over the crush in 2019 at the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has ruled.
Lauren Bullock (17), Morgan Barnard (17) and Connor Currie (16) died in the crush.
The PPS said it would not prosecute five police officers investigated for their role in responding as well as another nine individuals who were reported to police.
The two men to be prosecuted will each be charged with three counts of gross negligence manslaughter — one charge for each of the teenage deaths.
They will also each be charged with contravening the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978.
Tobin Limited, the company which runs Greenvale Hotel, is also to be charged with contravening the same health and safety legislation.
Of the nine people the PPS decided not to prosecute, seven were door staff, one worked in entertainment and the other in hotel management.
The PPS said the available evidence “did not present a reasonable prospect of conviction” against them under health and safety legislation.
Each of the nine “could have exercised very little control over the planning for and management of the events which unfolded, or alternatively held a role which carried little responsibility for the safety of hotel patrons,” according to prosecutors.
The five police officers investigated over alleged misconduct by the Police Ombudsman included a call dispatcher, three constables and a temporary sergeant.
Allegations related to the time between a 999 call at 9.25pm on the evening of the incident and the arrival of police — who were on duty in Cookstown — at the scene at 9.48pm.
The call dispatcher had “communicated, in good faith and without delay, the key information” and “adequately communicated the seriousness of the situation to the other officers and it could not be established that he had misconducted himself,” the PPS found.
Available evidence was “insufficient” to establish that the remaining officers, who were travelling in pairs in separate cars at the time, “recognised the seriousness or exact nature of the situation that was unfolding,” the PPS concluded.
“There was difficulty in establishing exactly what they heard over the police communications and there was some initial confusion as to whether the incident was a public order situation, either inside or outside the hotel.”
The PPS said the sergeant immediately requested more police “so that his officers could safely take any necessary action”.
“Police observations of the queue at the front of the hotel failed to identify any emergency and police also received assurances from inside the hotel that the situation was under control,” the PPS said.
Senior public prosecutor Graham Cardwell said the offence of police misconduct occurs when an officer “without reasonable excuse or justification, wilfully neglects to perform his duty to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder”.
“The threshold for this offence is high,” he added.
“I have concluded that the test for prosecution is not met against any of the five officers. The evidence was not capable of establishing any bad faith or improper motive in the actions of police at the scene or that they wilfully ignored a high-risk situation of which they were aware.”
Mr Cardwell said the teenagers’ families “have suffered a painful loss” and the PPS decision “may be one of mixed emotions for these families as they continue to live with the aftermath of such deeply distressing events”.
The decision was taken after a lengthy review of “large and complex” files handed to the PPS by separate investigating teams in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the North’s Police Ombudsman.
The families were told of the decision on Thursday morning.
“The files received from the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman were voluminous and detailed, and there were a considerable number of complex issues that required careful consideration,” said Mr Cardwell.
“I am grateful to the families for their patience as the PPS took the time needed to complete the significant task of examining all available evidence before reaching decisions on whether there was a reasonable prospect of conviction in relation to each suspect.”
Mr Cardwell said “detailed reasons” for not prosecuting police and other individuals in connection with the incident were given in writing to the families.
“Whilst some of the no prosecution decisions may be disappointing to them, I can reassure the families, and the wider public, that all decisions were taken independently and only after a most thorough examination of all evidence and information available,” he said.
“Criminal proceedings will commence in due course and we will continue to engage directly with the families involved as the prosecution progresses.”
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents police officers, welcomed the decision “that there was no criminal culpability by the police officers” involved.
Liam Kelly, chairman of the representative group, said it had been a difficult three years for the officers, “and I am sure they are relieved that any potential criminal matters are not being progressed against any of them”.
“However, that unfortunately is not the end of the matter as the officers will now have to wait on the Police Ombudsman to establish if she recommends any misconduct proceedings against any of the officers,” he added.
“This process should be completed as expeditiously as possible. Officers need to have closure and we would urge the Police Ombudsman’s office to fast-track its decision so that clarity is provided and the officers can move on with their lives and careers.”