The owner of the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown, where three teenagers died in an apparent crush, has accused police of having “blackened his name” over a substance that turned out not to be drugs.
Police arrested 52-year-old Michael McElhatton on suspicion of possession with intent to supply Class A drugs after they found a white powder during a search of his house.
However, forensic tests later found that the substance was nothing illicit and Mr McElhatton was “de-arrested” on that charge.
He remains in custody on suspicion of manslaughter following the deaths of 16-year-old Connor Currie, 17-year-old Morgan Barnard and 17-year-old Lauren Bullock.
A 40-year-old man, understood to be a member of the hotel door staff, is also still being held on suspicion of manslaughter.
In a statement, Mr McElhatton said: “While I wished to respect the ongoing investigation by the police into the tragic deaths of the three young people at the Greenvale Hotel on St Patrick’s night, I have no choice but to make it completely clear that I have nothing whatsoever to do with drugs.
“I can assure everyone that whatever any suspicions the police have raised about me in relation to anything to do with drugs is totally without any basis.
“Despite there being no basis to these suspicions, they have blackened my name and caused so much upset for so many people, especially those who are grieving and distressed over the events at the Greenvale Hotel.”
Police said Mr McElhatton’s de-arrest followed “fast-track forensic examination of a suspicious package consisting of a white-powder substance and tin foil”.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton later added that police had acted “in good faith and in line with procedure”.
He said: “We will continue to carry out a rigorous investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these three young people and we are deeply grateful for the huge assistance we are receiving from the community and we hope that people will continue to come forward and assist us with this enquiry.”
Meanwhile, the families of the three teenagers are preparing to lay their loved ones to rest following their funeral services on Friday.