Optician told me I could have been blinded, says boy in police CS gas row
A 12-year-old boy caught up in a controversial police CS spray incident in Belfast has said he was told by an optician he was lucky not to lose his sight.
Christian King said he was speaking out because he wanted to make sure no other children - of any religion or background - suffered the same experience as he did.
The boy is seen on video footage of the incident crying "I can't see" after the gas was dispensed by an officer.
The incident happened during a Junior Orange Order parade on the Ormeau Road on Tuesday evening.
Trouble developed when an officer tried to stop bandsmen brushing up against and damaging parked cars.
Parade organisers claimed police overreacted and criticised the use of the deterrent spray in an area where children were present.
The use of the spray prompted loyalists to claim there was a two-tier policing system in operation after no action was taken against masked dissidents parading in Lurgan.
PUP leader Billy Hutchinson claimed loyalists were edging close to a "tipping point" in terms of confidence in the PSNI.
The force said the officer had used the spray after coming under attack, and expressed regret that young people had come in contact with it.
Chief Constable George Hamilton said he stood by the policing operation on Tuesday night. He rejected any suggestion his organisation treated loyalists any differently than republicans.
However, Mr Hamilton said the PSNI would not argue if shortcomings were identified by the ongoing investigation into the incident by the Police Ombudsman.
Christian has been a member of the South Belfast Young Conquerors Flute Band for three years, and said what happened will not put him off marching.
He explained the parade was just passing a garage when the police became involved.
He said he was told to continue moving, which he did, but then a second police officer approached and withdrew his CS spray and, according to the boy, "sprayed it everywhere".
Christian said he was confused and scared as the spray stung his eyes, claiming he was sprayed in the face.
"It was really sore; stingy, and when I tried to open my eyes it hurt," he said.
"One of the bandsmen brought me over to his grandad. He got me some water, but apparently that's the worst thing to do.
"Another policeman said to let air at it.
"We rang the hospital and they told us to go to the opticians. They said I was lucky that I did not lose my sight.
"I wouldn't want it to happen again, but I definitely would go out (on parade) again."
He added: "I have been thinking about it a lot since, and sometimes it still hurts when I blink.
"I think it was one police officer who made a mistake and it turned into something big."
Christian's father George was at the family's caravan around 30 minutes away when he heard what had happened and immediately returned to Belfast.
He said he was upset when he saw the footage of the incident and his son crying in pain.
"There is no excuse for spraying children with CS spray," he said.
"I don't understand what was going through the officer's head.
"For the police to come out and say no children were directly sprayed. My son was, and others were. We fully support the police, I have brought up Christian to support them and told him they are there to protect us, but that officer was wrong."
He added: "I am in the band 23 years and nothing like that has ever happened. I wouldn't want it to happen to any other parent, no matter what divide they come from."
The family have welcomed the police expression of regret about the proximity of children to the spray, but said they wanted a proper apology.
The Police Ombudsman is currently carrying out an investigation. It is understood that at least 35 people have come forward to offer witness statements.
Meanwhile, the South Belfast Young Conquerors have issued a statement condemning the sharing of a policeman's details on the internet.
"We wish to express our clear and unequivocal condemnation of a police officer's details being posted on social media platforms," the band said in a statement.
"We would also wish to take this opportunity to make it clear that throughout its 40-year history, the officers and members of South Belfast Young Conquerors Flute Band have paraded with only one intention in mind. That intention being to maintain the highest standard of dignity and musicality."