MLA criticises water pistol row police as man accepts caution
Police have been accused of being overzealous for pursuing a criminal case against a young man for firing a water pistol.
Philip Deazley had been due to appear at court in connection with a charge of disorderly behaviour.
But ahead of yesterday's hearing the 22-year-old accepted a caution over the incident.
Mr Deazley had been travelling in a car along Portstewart Promenade last July when he squirted others with a large black, green and yellow water pistol.
However, when he pointed it in the direction of a police Land Rover the officers inside failed to see the funny side of his prank.
Last night a member of Stormont's justice committee said the case should never have been near a court.
"I don't think there's a lot of merit in somebody firing water over people," Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott said.
"We've all been young at one time and you can have a bit of fun, but certainly to charge him for disorderly behaviour is over the top.
"In the past I would have thought a quiet word of warning would have been a more practical way of dealing with it."
Having been squirted at, police activated their blue lights and pursued the vehicle. Mr Deazley was offered a caution and £85 fine at the scene but declined.
A file was then sent on the incident to the Public Prosecution Service.
Police were criticised at the time of the incident.
A Facebook page set up by officers on the north coast was inundated with comments including claims the police "should catch themselves on" and "concentrate on catching real criminals".
Others made tongue-in-cheek remarks about "police hypocrisy", given the use of high-powered water cannon against Twelfth rioters last summer.
However, a PSNI spokeswoman argued: "Police don't want to be killjoys and stop people having craic, but it's our job to draw the line when things go too far.
"Some people might not take kindly to prankish behaviour and police were being proactive in this instance, preventing trouble from starting in the first place."
She also voiced concerns of the potential for a traffic accident.
Witnesses backed the police's handling of the situation.
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, who also sits on the justice committee, said he could appreciate why officers may have felt the need to speak to Mr Deazley.
"I think the outcome is the appropriate one," he added.
The Belfast Telegraph tried to contact Mr Deazley yesterday but was unable to do so.
He previously told this newspaper: "There were about 10 other people squirting with water pistols that night but I was the only one stopped.
"When the police stopped me they said I could pay an £85 fine for disorderly behaviour, but I wasn't paying that for squirting a wee bit of water.
"Two police got out of the vehicle and there was no talking to them.
"They said they would arrest all five of us in the car if we didn't say who it was, so I said it was me. It was just a tiny bit of water, harmless fun."