Police have branded as “cruel and disgusting” anti-PSNI recruitment posters depicting an officer who was severely injured in a dissident republican bomb attack.
The posters use a picture of Peadar Heffron along with a warning that anyone thinking of joining the police could suffer similar injuries.
Mr Heffron lost a leg when a dissident bomb detonated under his car near Randalstown in 2010 as he travelled to work. He now uses a wheelchair.
As captain of the PSNI GAA team, the Catholic officer was targeted by the violent extremists as part of their efforts to intimidate other nationalists from joining up.
The posters were erected amid an ongoing recruitment drive by the PSNI – a campaign that is seeking to address the under-representation of Catholics in the police.
On Tuesday, Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and her party colleague Gerry Kelly revealed that police had warned them dissidents were planning to attack their homes.
The threat is understood to be linked to the politicians’ attendance at a PSNI recruitment event in Belfast last week.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said those behind the posters were “cowards”.
“These posters can only be described as cruel and disgusting and have clearly been created by those who fear a fully representative police service,” he said.
“The cowards who hide behind this fake rhetoric and who ridicule the resolve, commitment and bravery of every person who works every day to keep each of you safe, have nothing to offer our society and should be condemned by all right-thinking people.
“I would urge anyone who comes across these posters, either online or physically, not to share or circulate this material further.”
SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said the images were “crass and grossly offensive”.
He said they were an attempt to intimidate the people of Derry.
“I strongly condemn these posters and those groups behind them,” he said.
“Those responsible for erecting these posters have nothing to offer the people of the North and they must get off the backs of the local community.
“The SDLP is resolutely committed to a diverse and inclusive PSNI, which serves the whole of our community. Anyone should have the right to follow their chosen career path without fear of intimidation or attack.”
DUP Assembly member for Foyle Gary Middleton described the posters as “repulsive”.
“Whilst we should never be surprised by the tactics of dissident republicans opposed to the rule of law in Northern Ireland, the use of this imagery is particularly depraved and repulsive,” he said.
“It will rightly be rejected by the people of Londonderry and further afield.
“The PSNI is a police service for everyone in Northern Ireland. Constable Peadar Heffron served the entire community and these disgusting images cannot undo his service or that of current police officers and staff, from whatever background they come.
“Dissident elements will not succeed in their attempts to take us backwards. These posters, however, demonstrate once again the importance of a united community stance, not just in opposition of those who would threaten or use violence, but pro-actively in support of choosing policing as a career.”
Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle Martina Anderson said: “Those responsible for erecting these posters have nothing to offer, they have no politics and no strategy to achieve anything.
“It’s well past time they got off the backs of the community.
“This tactic is disgusting and disgraceful and comes from unrepresentative groups with little support in the community.
“Everyone should have the right to choose their career path free from any fear or intimidation.”
Policing Board chair Professor Anne Connolly said: “As a board, we condemn those responsible for the distribution of these deeply offensive posters.
“The attempt to threaten and intimidate potential applicants to the Police Service in this way is vile.
“We welcome the widespread political and community condemnation that has been voiced in response and for the support that is being given to the latest PSNI recruitment campaign.”