Belfast Telegraph

Area a haven for street drinkers, but they are human beings too

John Street is one of the gateways into Londonderry city centre, but it is a thoroughfare that sees very little pedestrian traffic, apart from the residents of Damien House hostel.

This week John Street was the backdrop to a video which showed PSNI officers apparently abandoning a vulnerable woman, leaving her lying in a bus lane before returning to their car and driving off.

These shocking few seconds of video footage have gone viral on the internet, prompting angry reactions from many who have seen it.

The woman featured in the video was yesterday back on John Street. She is 23-year-old Brigid Mongan, a member of the Travelling community.

Anyone who knows John Street will be aware that it is a place frequented by Derry's largely forgotten collection of street drinkers, drawn there perhaps because it is also where Foyle Haven is located.

Foyle Haven was set up in 2001 by a number of dedicated people led by a former RUC officer Peter Sheehy, now deceased, and a nun, Sister Catherine, who wanted to help the street drinkers.

This building really is a haven for those street drinkers, who live on the margins of society.

It is here where they can get a hot meal, get washed and enjoy a few hours recreation.

Ms Mongan is a frequent visitor to the establishment.

Karl Hargan is the manager of an off-licence which fronts the bus lane where the incident happened.

He was shocked by what he saw in the video.

Mr Hargan was on duty in the shop on Monday, St Patrick's Day, and not unexpectedly business was brisk. Among those who came into the shop was the partner of the woman in the video.

But instead of making a purchase, he asked Mr Hargan for help because the pair, whose relationship has been described as "volatile", were having a spat.

Mr Hargan described what unfolded: "He asked me for an exclusion order because the two of them were fighting and he wanted her to leave him and I told him he was in the off-licence. Just then, she came in and the two of them started to fight and she hit her head against the door and fell to the floor unconscious.

"I went into Foyle Haven to get some help and one of the staff came back to the shop with me. By the time we got back, he was in a bad state and she was still knocked out.

"We rang the police.

"She eventually came round and was looking for him.

"When the police arrived they arrested him and put him in the back of their car, but she then ran out and tried to get into the car to him. The police were trying to stop her from getting into the car when she lay down on the road."

Mr Hargan, who has worked in the off-licence for a number of years, has witnessed the dynamics of the couple's relationship, which switches from aggression to compatibility many times over the course of a day.

He continued: "I have known both of them for a fair while.

"They are in and out of here all the time. In fact, they were both in here a short time ago, completely unaware of this entire situation. She has been around John Street for years, even though she is relatively young. But despite her young years she has the head of an older woman. She can normally handle herself well."

There is no doubting how precarious life is as a street drinker, and while this video has sparked a range of reactions from the wider public, yesterday one of her friends from John Street sent a stark message when he said: "We are all alcoholics, but that doesn't mean you can put us down."

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