Police investigating the deaths of three teenagers outside a hotel disco in Northern Ireland have rejected claims that they tried to blacken the name of the hotel owner.
Students Lauren Bullock, 17, Connor Currie, 16, and Morgan Barnard, 17, died after a crush at the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown on Sunday.
Michael McElhatton, 52, owns the Co Tyrone premises and was arrested suspected of manslaughter. He has since been bailed and will return for further questioning in future, police said.
Mr McElhatton was further arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of possession of Class A drugs with intent to supply.
He was swiftly “de-arrested” after forensic analysis said unidentified white powder discovered at his home was not a controlled substance.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray said: “I know there is a lot of press speculation about blackening people’s names.
“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 if police delayed sending out the initial media update on the seizure and arrest, officers would have been facing questions on why they were holding back information.
He added: “Police on the ground will never have that luxury of being able to work in hindsight, they have to work with what they reasonably and in good faith suspect at the time.”
A statement released by Mr McElhatton’s spokeswoman accused police of trying to damage his name.
Mr Murray said: “No, I’m not going to apologise, but what I am going to do is explain and I think that is only but right.
“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 coming to the “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 the forensic lab was unable to identify the substance but it was not controlled drugs.
Hundreds of mourners have left written and floral tributes to the three teenagers.
Cookstown and the surrounding area has been left reeling by the tragedy.
The detective said the families were grateful to all of those who have come forward to speak to the PSNI so far and appeal to anyone else who witnessed the terrible event to come forward and give their account to police.
He said they wanted to find out exactly what happened to their children and have asked people to co-operate fully with the investigation.
The families would also like to thank emergency services who responded at the scene and the staff at the Antrim Area Hospital, the senior officer added.
Mr Murray said: “Morgan’s family will remember him for loving the simple things in life.
“He volunteered for a number of things including working at the local cancer research shop.
“He always had a smile for everyone and brightened up the classroom with his humour.”
He said Lauren’s family will remember her as a very thoughtful and caring young girl who was “outgoing and fun loving”.
The three funerals will be held on Friday.