POLICE have refused to apologise after Greenvale Hotel owner Michael McElhatton was arrested on suspicion of drugs offences and later “de-arrested”.
Mr McElhatton, who was arrested on Tuesday of last week on suspicion of manslaughter, has accused the PSNI of trying to “blacken his name”.
The 52-year-old, pictured, was being questioned by police in Dungannon when he was arrested separately on suspicion of possessing a class-A drug with intent to supply. Hours later he was “de-arrested” after a “fast-track forensic examination of a suspicious package consisting of white-powder substance and tin foil” ascertained the powder to be “an innocent substance”.
It is understood the material was a cleaning product Mr McElhatton had taken home from the hotel in a plastic bag.
At a Press conference in Belfast on Thursday last, Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray refused to apologise.
“No, I’m not going to apologise but what I am going to do is explain and I think that is only but right,” he said.
“Everything that happened in relation to that arrest and seizure is what we normally do.”
Mr Murray said the officer who seized the item was justified in having a “reasonable suspicion” that it might have been drugs.
“It was white powder in an unmarked, unbranded clear plastic bag and around that are a number of individual tin foil pieces which are scrunched up and look like wraps so the Police officer seized that and reasonably suspects – and that is the threshold in law, because we are in the time and don’t have the luxury of looking back – that these are drugs and makes a seizure,” he said.
Mr McElhatton was later bailed and might be asked to return for further questioning.
It is believed he visited relatives of the victims and attended a Prayer Service.
Mr Murray denied that Police were out to damage Mr McElhatton’s reputation.
“I know there is a lot of Press speculation about blackening people’s names,” he said. “Let me be very, very clear here today. That’s not what we are about.
“What we are about is investigating the deaths of three children in a fast-moving, high-intensity investigation.
“And actually the very fact that we moved so quickly for the forensic examination, the very fact that as soon as we got the results we expeditiously made it known to the individual and then we issued the update to the media, I think actually shows transparency.”
Mr Murray said he does not accept that what took place undermines the investigation’s credibility.
Police have come in for strong criticism over their handling of the affair.
Independent councillor Barry Monteith, who knows the victims’ families, said: “I believe this affects the credibility of the investigation.”
He said he believed the way Police acted could have “major implications” which would only serve to further traumatise this community.”
And Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy, who was visibly moved when speaking to the media outside the Greenvale Hotel last week, said the investigation must focus on what caused the teenagers’ deaths.
He met police earlier in the day with his party’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill.
“We challenged the Police on the progress of the investigation to date and we made it clear that the investigation needs to refocus on the awful events of Sunday night,” he said.
“That police investigation must be full, thorough and comprehensive.”
An online petition has been started calling for Mr Murray to resign following the police’s perceived handling of McElhatton.
On Monday afternoon, the petition started by Billy Dunne, had been signed 4,153 times. Once he reaches the target of 5,000 signatures, he plans to send it to PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton.