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Stop and search of Omagh men ‘illegal’

OFFICERS who stopped and searched a father and son from Omagh acted outside the law, a court has heard.

Two police officers told Omagh Magistrates Court they did not suspect Francis Hugh Pearson (53) and his son Sean Pearson (26) both of Culmore Park were in possession of terrorist items which is a pre-requisite for detaining persons under the legislation.

While agreeing that the officers may have acted outside the law in stopping the two men, District Judge Stephen Keown deemed that the defendants were nonetheless culpable for their behaviour after they were stopped.

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The son Sean Pearson, who has a previous conviction for taking part in an unnotified parade and wearing paramilitary type clothing in Easter 2018, was convicted of disorderly behaviour and resisting a police officer in the execution of his duty.

Sean Pearson was fined £500. His father Francis Pearson was convicted of obstructing one of the police men in the execution of his duty and fined £200. It was his first criminal offence. He was acquitted of a charge of assaulting the police officer.

Police bodyworn camera footage was viewed by the judge after hearing evidence from the two police officers and the Pearsons.

Defence barrister Craig Patton had argued that the charges should be withdrawn against both his clients as the police officers were not acting in the “execution of their duty” as the offences stipulated because they were not lawfully detaining his clients.

After consideration, the Judge agreed that ‘Justice and Security’ legislation to detain the men may have been used illegally but stated that nevertheless the offences were committed.

In his judgement he described the behaviour by the Pearsons as “snatching defeat from the jaws of potential victory as they had been stopped illegally”.

The officers in evidence both stated that had received numerous confidential briefings from C3 officers (formerly known as Special Branch) regarding the Pearsons and where they live. They said their intention was to search the car being driven by the father and the two defendants for “munitions and wireless operations“.

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They both said they did not suspect the defendants were carrying munition or transmitters.

Officer A told the court that the car drove into the Asda carpark on the Dromore Road and Sean Pearson got out of the passenger seat and walked away. He stated that Pearson swore at him when he tried to stop him and became aggressive.

The officer also said he was shoved from behind and turned around and saw Francis Pearson. The judge cleared the father of assault regarding the alleged shove and found him guilty of obstruction as he put himself between the police officer and his son.

Sean Pearson claimed he reacted to police because his arm was pushed up his back and he was in pain. However after considering the evidence, including the body camera footage, Judge Keown said Sean Pearson “acted very aggressively”.

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Ulster Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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