Tourist's bag stolen at City Hall
Belfast High Sheriff Jim Rodgers has spoken of his anger and embarrassment after a Chinese tourist's handbag was stolen at City Hall.
The woman, who was accompanied by friends, was being photographed on the stairs when the distressing incident - which is thought to be a first - occurred.
Sources at City Hall (right) said CCTV was not operational at the particular spot where the handbag was snatched after being left unattended while pictures were being taken.
However, a council spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph that footage of the reception area, which was busy ahead of a tour, was being examined.
Mr Rodgers said the incident was a terrible advertisement for one of Belfast's most important landmarks, adding that he feared it would put off people from wanting to visit the popular tourist attraction.
"The woman is absolutely devastated that her handbag, containing her passport, money and a camera, was stolen shortly after she arrived in Belfast for the first time," he said.
"She only arrived in the city first thing yesterday morning with three friends on a whistle-stop tour and they're leaving today, so they haven't had the best experience that they could have had. It's a tragic day when a tourist can't visit one of Belfast's most iconic buildings with a realistic expectation of leaving with all their personal belongings in tact."
Eyewitnesses reported that the handbag belonging to the woman, who was in her early 30s, was taken by a man who was seen fleeing through the front entrance of City Hall.
"I totally condemn this incident and I hope the police bring the perpetrator to justice without further delay," said Mr Rodgers.
"Something like this should never happen, but in the meantime I would advise people not to leave down their handbags, or any other personal belongings, beside them when they're visiting City Hall."
A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said the incident happened just before 10am when the reception area was particularly crowded with visitors prior to a planned tour.
"Staff immediately provided assistance, with the reception team sourcing a contact number for the woman to report the matter to the PSNI and our security team assuring her that all would be done regarding CCTV analysis of the reception area at the time," she explained.
"We have both CCTV coverage of the reception area of City Hall and security personnel stationed there. The CCTV analysis is ongoing at present."
It is understood that reception staff sourced contact numbers for the woman's airline company and her bank so that she could cancel her cards.
The woman later returned to reception with a small memento for one of the receptionists as a thank-you.
A spokeswoman for the PSNI said that officers were investigating the theft of a handbag from Belfast City Hall in Donegall Square.
She added: "The bag contained a purse containing a sum of cash and a white camera.
"Police enquiries are continuing and there are no further details at this time."
Mr Rodgers said that the woman and her friends were presented with civic gifts following the theft "to show the good side of the city".