Police in Northern Ireland have been slammed after an officer was pictured performing a stop and search on a girl of 10.
The image was posted on social media showing the youngster, dressed in a purple coat, being spoken to by the female cop on a footpath.
Republican group Saoradh have condemned the stop and search, saying it left the girl “terrified”, Belfast Live reports .
However, they and the police have issued statements about the incident offering differing versions of events.
West Belfast police commander, Chief Inspector Norman Haslett confirmed that a police patrol stopped a vehicle on the Falls at around tea time “to speak with the driver and an adult passenger”.
He added: “From the outset, police officers were aware of a female child who was also in the vehicle. A police officer asked the driver if he would prefer if the conversation between himself and the police took place out of view and earshot of the child.
“The driver of the vehicle declined this offer. During a subsequent search of the adults and of the vehicle, the child left the vehicle of her own free will and stood on the footpath.
“When the search was complete, police asked the driver if, due to the cold conditions, the child wished to get back into the vehicle. This offer was declined by the driver.
“During the interaction, a female police officer spoke to the child and a photograph of this was taken and subsequently posted on social media alongside a number of comments.
“In instances such as this, the welfare of children needs to be everyone’s concern and I have reinforced to my officers the need to be protective of young people and that they are not suspects.
“As always, we are open to challenge and discussion about the use of stop and search and I am acutely aware that there are different views and narratives about its use in West Belfast.
“The West Belfast PCSP have an important role to play in local policing accountability and I would welcome the opportunity to brief the Chair and members of the West Belfast PCSP on the use of police stop & search at their convenience.”
Chf Insp Haslett said that the “appropriate and sensitive use of stop and search powers remains a key tool in tackling crime and ensuring community safety right across the greater Belfast area”.
But he added: “As with every such interaction between police and the public, any learning for police will be reflected upon as we continue to do our job to protect the community from harm.”
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However Risteard O Murchu, a spokesman for Saoradh, described the girl as being “interrogated” by the police.
He said that the girl was stopped “while accompanying her Republican father on his way to deliver the Proclamation news sheet to homes in the Ballymurphy area”.
He added: “Eyewitness and Saoradh activist Damhnaic Mac Eochaidh who arrived at the scene as events were ongoing explained that the PSNI had stopped and surrounded a vehicle containing a Republican activist and his child. They ordered both occupants of the vehicle out and onto the roadside.
“Being heavily armed and hyper-aggressive, the child was obviously terrified. The legislation invoked was the draconian section 21 Justice and Security act and a search ensued.
“Passers-by, on being naturally concerned about the welfare of a clearly, terrified, little girl and who inquired as to what was going on, were then themselves detained and searched by police also.”
Mr Mac Eochaidh said there is an ongoing “process of State-sponsored child abuse” involving the children of Saoradh “wholly designed to overwhelm parents and to coerce them into abandoning their legitimate political beliefs”.
He added: “Saoradh once again call upon the Commissioner for children and young people in the Six-Counties, Koulla Yiasouma, to meet with a delegation from Saoradh so as to discuss this ongoing abuse of our children at the hands of the state. We further call on all political representatives in Nationalist areas to challenge this child abuse by relinquishing their current support of the RUC/PSNI.”