Ardoyne priest's tribute to popular beat cop Craig McDowell slashed in the face
A police officer slashed in the face with a Stanley knife in north Belfast was recently honoured for his work in the neighbourhood.
Sergeant Craig McDowell was attacked on the Crumlin Road on New Year's Day.
He had been investigating the reported vandalism of banners at a loyalist protest camp at Twaddell Avenue.
Police said a fight broke out between a teenager and members of the public after the youth tried to damage a banner.
As police attempted to apprehend the teenager, Sgt McDowell was slashed across the face, requiring hospital treatment for his injuries.
Sgt McDowell received an overall award in the Protective Policing Service category at the Policing with the Community awards last October. It was presented by Chief Constable Matt Baggott.
Sgt McDowell also captained the PSNI's medal-winning hockey team at the World Police and Fire Games last summer.
Ardoyne priest Gary Donegan said he had received phone calls from concerned locals inquiring about the injured officer.
He contacted Sgt McDowell shortly after the assault, and said he was badly shaken by his ordeal.
"Craig is highly respected in the area," Fr Donegan told the Belfast Telegraph.
"He was on all over Christmas. I walk those streets every night as well with others to ensure youths don't get involved in anything.
"I called Craig and he told me what had happened.
"Obviously he was very annoyed and upset about what had happened, but he went on to say it is part of what his duty is."
Fr Donegan said Sgt McDowell is involved in a range of neighbourhood policing initiatives and is well-liked throughout the area.
"I've seen Craig being congratulated by locals on his exploits during the World Police and Fire Games," he added.
"He's a widely respected and important member of the community. What says a lot is locals came to his assistance after he was attacked."
Sgt McDowell had been due to go on holiday leave the day after he was assaulted. It is understood he will return to duty in the area when his break ends.
A taxi driver who witnessed the incident the officer was investigating told how he tried to get a youth into his vehicle after seeing him remove banners from the camp.
He told the North Belfast News another motorist intervened and began to assault the teenager.
A 16-year-old arrested in connection with the attack on the police officer remains in custody.
Following the attack, DUP councillor Brian Kingston urged anybody with information to contact police.
He said: "Clearly this is a very serious sequence of events. I hope that the police officer will make a full recovery, though it is possible that he will be left with a scar. It is imperative that the PSNI increase their presence in the area to prevent any further incidents."
Last week a number of banners at the Twaddell camp were slashed by two men armed with knives and broken bottles.
The incident led to calls for calm in north Belfast.
Tensions have been high since last month's murder bid on police by dissident republicans.
About 15 shots were fired from AK-47 assault rifles less than 50ft away from where around 60 people – ranging from young children to pensioners – had gathered at Twaddell Avenue.