Officers disciplined over wedding couple arrests

Neil and Yanan McElwee, pictured oustide Derry's Guildhall. (2107SL02) Photo: Stephen Latimer
Neil and Yanan McElwee, pictured oustide Derry's Guildhall. (2107SL02) Photo: Stephen Latimer

Three Derry police officers have been disciplined over the traumatic wrongful arrest of a bride and groom on their wedding day, the ‘Journal’ can reveal.

The action was taken by the PSNI after the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) ruled that Strabane man Neil McElwee and his pregnant Chinese fiancee Yanan Sun were “unlawfully arrested and detained” by officers who accused them of embarking on a sham marriage.

The young couple were arrested in front of more than 50 wedding guests, minutes before the ceremony at Derry’s Guildhall on July 19, 2011.

It was revealed yesterday that following an extensive investigation, PONI had ruled on two allegations made by the couple against PSNI officers. While an allegation of unlawful arrest and detention was upheld by the PONI, a second allegation that there was an unnecessary delay in processing the couple to allow their release was not upheld.

However, solicitor for the McElwee family, Strabane Sinn Fein Councillor Karina Breslin-Carlin said she will be fighting to have the allegation that there was an “unecessary delay” in PSNI’s release of her clients upheld by the Ombudsman.

A letter from the Ombudsman’s office states that the senior officer in charge of the investigation along with two officers who arrested the couple have since been internally “disciplined in respect of the failings” on the recommendation PONI.

PONI also recommended a PSNI review of operational procredures with the UK Border Authority in respect of similar future operations “to ensure that similar mistakes do not happen”.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ last night, Mr McElwee said the findings of the report and actions against the officers involved in his case did not go far enough.

“We could only have that day once in our lives, yet it was taken away from us. The police could have done their jobs right and saved us a lot of trouble.” He said that even after their arrests, the officers had “ample opportunity” to save the wedding day.

“They knew within 40 minutes of arresting us that they were wrong but they continued to hold us for five hours,” he said.

Mr McElwee said he wants to know how the officers involved had been disciplined for “completely changing our lives”.

“They may have been suspended but then they may be suspended with pay, I don’t know. I’m assuming, because it is not specified, that their punishments were not harsh,” he said.

The couple, who have since had a baby girl, named Mia, are now taking a civil action in relation to their ordeal.

“Hopefully, a lot more information will come out then and it will be addressed properly.

“The matter is far from transparent at the minute, we still don’t know what exactly happened and not enough has been done to provide us with the information. Far from the full story has been told.”

Chef Neil and Yanan were married several days after the incident in a low key ceremony. Neil said his wife had found it especially hard in the months after the incident. He said it had been extremely difficult for her to regain a sense of normality.