Belfast Telegraph

Investigation launched after PSNI 'chuckles' over vulnerable man's rescue on Facebook

Mother's anger as police 'mock' son on social media

By Claire Williamson

An investigation has been launched after the PSNI described the rescue of a vulnerable man - who was found naked in a ditch - as an "unusual call that gave us a chuckle" in a Facebook post.

The man aged in his 20s was rescued by the fire service in the early hours of Saturday morning.

However, following the incident PSNI Bangor posted on their Facebook page saying it was an "unusual call that gave us a chuckle" adding the hashtags "#fullmoon #hideandstreak #keepingpeopledecent".

PSNI Bangor has over 37,000 people following it and the post was liked 600 times, had 200 comments and was shared 50 times.

Police have confirmed they have notified the Police Ombudsman of the incident and are progressing a formal referral.

The man's mother, who did not wish to be named, said her son could have died in the ordeal and that she hadn't received an apology from the PSNI.

She told the BBC Stephen Nolan show: "My son who has battled with mental health difficulties from the age of 14, was found down a 10-foot ditch.

"He was hospitalised and had to be rescued by two fire brigades. On Saturday night police put up a status on Facebook with hashtags and making a mockery of him."

She continued: "The doctor told me he landed into an ice cold lake and if he'd been there for another hour my son wouldn't be here today.

"He has near 300 cuts on his body and covered in stitches, and had hypothermia. He's not too bad considering but he's disgusted he's been made a joke of on Facebook."

The concerned mother said it was "distressing" for her son who has battled with depression in the past.

"We kept this between our family. They [the PSNI] said they didn't name him, but it'll not take long for people to put two and two together.

"I'm worried about the impact on my son."

The offending post was removed from social media, in another post, an officer said: "I'm sure no harm was meant by the post but I apologise if there was any hurt taken from it."

On Monday Chief Inspector Gerry McGrath said: “Police would apologise once again for the upset caused by this post on our social media platform.

“We work hard with our partner agencies to help support those in our local communities affected by mental health issues. It is not an issue to be taken lightly and we acknowledge the distress caused on this occasion.

“We have notified PONI (Police Ombudsman) of this incident and are currently progressing a formal referral in relation to this.”

In a statement the Police Ombudsman confirmed they have been notified by the police about the incident and an investigation will be commenced.

Alliance Policing Board member Stephen Farry said he would be raising the issue directly their meeting in a fortnight's time.

He said: "I am concerned and disappointed at this abuse of social media. We should be trying to combat stigma around mental health issues and this type of reaction from the police sets that back.

"I have previously raised the need for a proper social media policy across the PSNI. There have been other unfortunate incidents relating to the inappropriate use of social media. This need has been accepted and a report is due back to the Policing Board in the near future.

"I will also be raising this issue directly at the Policing Board meeting in a fortnight's time."

DUP Mid-Ulster Assembly candidate Keith Buchanan said: "There must be due consideration given when using social media. It is a useful tool but there must also be sensitivity when dealing with particularly issues.

"Discussions have taken place within the Policing Board on the use of social media. There should be uniform guidelines in place to deal with social media within organisations such as the PSNI."

On the PSNI website they state that by 'liking' their Facebook pages you will "receive information about how we work, behind the scenes pictures, campaigns, road information and much more."

It says the Facebook pages "allow you to comment on what we are doing and provide feedback".

The pages have made headlines before when a Detective Superintendent became somewhat of a poster boy for the PSNI following appearances ahead of Tennent's Vital musical festival.

Hordes of people commented on Detective Bobby Singleton's appearance on the PSNI official Facebook page.

Such was the popularity of the social media posts that they even made national news.

PSNI Bangor then used the opportunity as a recruitment drive.

It posted: "Instead of turning to a life of crime to meet Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton which I have seen several ladies threaten. Why not join the PSNI and run into him in a chance meeting in the canteen or during an arrest at custody. (No that’s not my plan at all)"

It received more than 2,000 likes.

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