Police officer cleared of 'Mad Friday' Thurso assault
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A police officer has admitted punching a man during festive celebrations in Thurso, but was cleared on a charge of assault.
Sheriff Neil Wilson accepted that Special Constable Derek Graeme McNeill had struck Jordan Macgregor in self defence, believing he was going to be attacked by him and found the charge not proven.
McNeill had pleaded not guilty and entered a special defence of self defence.
Wick Sheriff Court heard during the trial, on Tuesday, that the incident occurred at the junction of Princes Street and Olrig Street in Thurso, early on Saturday, December 17 last year.
It came in the wake of what is known locally as "Mad Friday", when pre-Christmas celebrations were in full swing in the town, the streets busy with revellers.
Constable McNeill was paired with colleague Ian Macrae when they went on motor patrol in the town.
It was stated that they decided to pull over after observing two men who appeared to be squaring up for a fight.
Constable Macrae said that one of them, Mr Macgregor, approached the car where McNeill was sitting in the front passenger seat with the window open and enquired of him: "What are you looking at?"
Constable Macrae said that the remark was made in an aggressive manner by Mr Macgregor who was "in a drunken state".
He then saw McNeill strike Mr Macgregor through the open window by punching him on his left cheek just below his eye.
Other witnesses, including Mr Macgregor, gave evidence that the assault had taken place and McNeill agreed that he was responsible for it.
McNeill's is a nuclear chemist at the Vulcan site at Dounreay, and has been a Special Constable for 29 years.
Giving evidence for the defence, the 60-year-old told the court that Mr Macgregor approached the police car and made a derogatory remark about his looks.
"I tried to lighten things up as I was concerned about the atmosphere and replied 'We can't all be handsome'," he said.
McNeill claimed Mr Macgregor then made a further offensive remark.
"There were two people standing with him and were trying to hold him back," he said.
McNeill said that Mr Macgregor put his head down into the open window of the police car and at that point, he, the accused, threw his hand out or flicked it at Mr Macgregor, catching him on his cheek below his left eye.
McNeill said: "I honestly believed that I was going to be attacked by him."
Fiscal David Barclay suggested to McNeill that he could have avoided confrontation by getting out of the police car and running away.
McNeill replied: "I had my seat belt on and couldn't have shut the window as the car engine was switched off."
He added: "I struck him once, in order to defend myself."
The accused said that his reaction was in keeping with his police training in such situations.
Finding the charge not proven, Sheriff Wilson said that had the evidence been restricted to the actual assault, it would have supported the charge.
However, he said he found McNeill's evidence on what had led to the assault "coherent and credible and sufficient to give me reasonable doubt about whether you are guilty or not."
Speaking after the verdict Mr McNeill said that the case had been hanging over him for 11 months and he was "glad it was all over".