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Teen loses his case over use of children 'riot photos'

By Brian Farmer

Published 02/07/2015

The boy had been arrested following sectarian disorder in Derry in 2010
The boy had been arrested following sectarian disorder in Derry in 2010

A teenager from Londonderry has lost a Supreme Court fight over the PSNI's use of images of children suspected of rioting at a sectarian interface.

The decision by the UK's highest court may now be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, his legal representatives said.

Supreme Court judges considered whether police should be allowed to publish images of young suspects at a hearing in London in November - and yesterday backed the PSNI.

The boy 'JR38' had been arrested following sectarian disorder in Derry in 2010. He was aged 14 at the time.

MSM Law claimed that the subsequent publication of such "naming and shaming" images in newspapers and 25,000 police leaflets was a human rights breach.

Police bosses disputed the teenager's claim.

They said images were captured for the purpose of identifying people involved in criminal activity and they said the images were not disseminated for any purpose other than the legitimate policing purpose of the prevention and detection of crime.

Ruling in favour of the police, the Supreme Court justices said CCTV images were taken of the teenager "in the course of rioting" and later published in newspapers as part of a police campaign designed to identify people involved.

They said publication did interfere with the teenager's right to a private life, but said that interference was justified because it was necessary for the administration of justice and was not excessive.

The teenager, now 18, had asked the UK's highest court to consider the issue after the Northern Ireland High Court ruled that police had not interfered with his right to private life - which is enshrined in human rights legislation - in 2013.

Supreme Court justices, who said the teenager could not be identified in media reports, unanimously dismissed his appeal.

MSM Law said some of the images published featured children as young as eight years old, while others were of children who it was later established had been bystanders who had committed no offences.

Senior Partner Eoghan McKenna said they are now seeking to challenge the decision at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on behalf of their client.

Solicitor Barbara Muldoon said: "Our duty as a society is to safeguard children and to promote their best interests.

"The law should reflect that duty.

"The criminal justice system is meant to protect children. That is why children who are charged with criminal offences cannot be identified.

"It is therefore utterly incongruous that children who are merely suspected of being involved in criminal offences can be identified in this way. Such an approach is deeply offensive to the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial."

Lawyers in MSM Law, the Belfast Law Firm who represented the boy at the centre of this case, argued that the police actions were illegal, being an unnecessary and unjustified breach of the rights of the children involved.

They highlighted that the name of the police operation - Operation Exposure - clearly belied the primary intention to name and shame young children.

They further argued that the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other instruments of both international and domestic law protected children from being identified in this way.

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