Police accused of dismissing Ronan Hughes' plea for help just days before his death
The PSNI has been accused of failing tragic schoolboy Ronan Hughes who took his own life after being targeted online by a Nigerian blackmail gang.
Serious questions are now being asked over the force's "dismissive" approach to the young boy and his family when they begged officers for help just days before his death.
Members of the Policing Board, the body that holds the PSNI to account, said there were "endemic failures by police officers" when dealing with the distressed 17-year-old's complaint of blackmail.
The PSNI last night said the Chief Constable has asked the Police Ombudsman to investigate the response in the case.
A Nigerian cybercrime gang targeted the Co Tyrone teenager online and blackmailed him over intimate photographs. The blackmailers said they would send the images to his online friends unless he paid £3,300 within 48 hours.
Ronan took his own life earlier this month, just hours after learning that his blackmailers had carried out their threat.
Just a few days before he died a distraught Ronan and his father Gerard went to Dungannon police station to beg for help, but the station was closed to the public for the evening and only one officer was in the building.
The officer spoke to them at the gates and allegedly told them there was very little he could do as he was there on his own and advised them to call back the following day.
When they returned to the station a detective met them and Ronan was advised to ignore the blackmail.
The Coalisland boy's family have claimed that police were "dismissive" and did not give him any reassurances that they would help stop the images being distributed. They believe that had police offered him reassurance, "he would still be here today".
Policing Board member Jonathan Craig accused the PSNI of a "complete and utter failure of duty".
The DUP man said: "This was an endemic failure on the ground by police officers who failed to recognise the seriousness of the situation. Ronan's death could not have been foreseen, but how this was dealt with was completely unacceptable.
"It appears that this young boy and his family were fobbed off. I will be speaking to senior management about this to find out what went wrong. The organisation is equipped to deal with crimes like this so we need to find out if there is a lack of effective procedures.
"You can't just say there's nothing much we can do for you. Surely the alarm bells should have been ringing straight away."
SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said the police response was "grossly inadequate".
"Tragically it appears that this young boy's complaint was trivialised. Police at local level appeared not to have any idea what they were dealing with and nor did they seek expert help or advice from their peers," Ms Kelly said.
She added that officers should have recognised the distress and seriousness of what Ronan and his parents were telling them.
"It is disconcerting that the response was grossly inadequate. The Chief Constable will have to explain if he thinks the failing in this case was in terms of knowledge or training, or will he try and justify it in terms of budget cuts?
"The message the police were able to articulate so well after Ronan's death about cybercrime clearly hadn't filtered down through the organisation.
"God knows how many other people out there are suffering in silence."
PSNI officers are to meet Ronan's family this week to discuss their concerns.
Detective Chief Superintendent Brian Hanna said: "Our enquiries are continuing into what will be a complex and protracted investigation and we will keep the family informed of any progress as appropriate."
If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, contact the Samaritans on 0845 790 9090, or Lifeline (0808 808 8000).