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Police blunders mean pervert who flashed at Belfast children still roaming streets, claims parent

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 28/05/2015

Ombudsman: Michael Maguire
Ombudsman: Michael Maguire

A sex offender could still be roaming the streets of east Belfast because of a string of police blunders, a parent has warned.

The man's six-year-old daughter was one of three young girls who were victims of an indecent approach last year.

The girls were led into an alleyway by the suspect, who then exposed himself and made various sexual references.

Yesterday, it emerged two PSNI officers have been disciplined over failings in how they responded to the case.

Officers failed to secure CCTV footage of where the approach occurred. By the time they did, it had been wiped. The suspect was never apprehended.

The man who brought the complaint said police failures had put other children at risk.

"A paedophile is still walking about, at large, in Belfast. This guy could still be walking up and down our street - we don't know. Had the police done their job and come right away, he wouldn't be walking the streets posing a risk to other children."

The incident occurred in the Beersbridge Road area on August 4 last year.

Police received a 999 call shortly before 4.30pm reporting that a man had just approached and exposed himself to the girls, who were aged six and seven, asking them to touch him. The caller said he ran off towards the river. Police received a second call 32 minutes later telling them that he was still in the area. Officers had entered the details of the initial call on the computer system and circulated the suspect's description within two minutes. However, they did not grade the call as requiring an emergency response.

Following the second call, the officer's superviser directed that the matter be dealt with as an emergency and a police vehicle was sent to the scene.

Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire found that while the PSNI subsequently went to great lengths to find the man, their efforts were undermined by failures in the early part of the investigation.

"The police dispatch officer failed to assign police officers to the call and failed to consider the young age of the girls and the fact the alleged perpetrator had left the scene," he said.

"This report required police to attend immediately, regrettably this did not happen. Police lost 32 minutes in responding to the call and with this an opportunity to apprehend the man."

Police Ombudsman staff established that the officer who was tasked with investigating this incident had technical difficulties getting CCTV footage from a nearby petrol station.

She failed to ask for the necessary technical help from colleagues or to explain the urgency of the task, leading to a delay during this time the footage was automatically wiped clean.

Investigators also identified CCTV footage from a nearby shop which had been overlooked. They alerted officers to this material, which was then seized.

The Police Ombudsman said that despite a thorough investigation from this point onwards, no one was apprehended.

The police dispatch officer and the investigating officer have both been disciplined.

Belfast City District Commander Nigel Grimshaw said: "While such failings reflect badly on the Police Service of Northern Ireland, it is a single incident, one which we must learn from, but it does not reflect the excellent work which our officers do every day to support the local community and keep people safe."

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