Charity fundraiser alleges police harassment campaign led to stop and search

March 27, 2012

By Christine Keighery

A Newry fundraiser who has helped to gather over £700 for local suicide prevention group, PIPS, has claimed that he was subjected to a humiliating public search while out raising sponsorship, as part of an on-going campaign of harassment by the PSNI.

The Newry man alleges he was stopped by police around 4pm on Tuesday 20th March as he made his way down Hill Street to collect sponsorship for his participation in forthcoming Marathons in Newry and Dublin, to raise funds for PIPS.

During the search, which was witnessed by several Taxi drivers at the Hill Street Taxi rank, a police officer attempted to confiscate the man’s sponsorship card and began questioning the identities of those who had sponsored him.  The angry fundraiser feels these actions were unnecessary and outside of the realm of normal police inquiry.  He maintains that a Taxi driver observing the incident verbally protested about the nature of the search, calling it a “disgrace” but was ignored by the officers.

The disgruntled local made further claims that this recent incident was the latest in over three hundred occasions where he has been publicly stopped and questioned or searched over the last two years.  The alleged catalogue of harassment includes a recent outing where he claims to have been stopped three times in a forty minute period by individual police patrols.  Fellow running enthusiasts, he maintains, have also witnessed him receive insulting gestures from passing police patrols as he ran in marathons and 10k races, and he was recently stopped and breathalysed whilst driving his children home from a race event in Armagh.

As he is not a member of any political organisation, the aggrieved man feels the only reason for being targeted in this manner may be his involvement in the election campaign of Independent Councillor, Davy Hyland.  Describing the PSNI as “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, he believes the harassment he is suffering is proof of a misuse of vital resources that would be better utilised in the apprehension of active and known criminals in the area.

Republican group, eirigi, backed the charity worker’s claims and said the actions of the PSNI in Newry had “reached a new low” last week with the searching of the charity worker as well as the targeting of birthday party revellers and a young mother and her children on St Patrick’s Day.

éirígí’s Stephen Murney explained,

“These latest incidents of harassment will come as no surprise. On St Patrick’s Day, I was contacted by a number of residents of Parkhead Crescent, who told me that the PSNI in two armoured cars and an armoured landrover had entered the area. One of the residents told me that they had stopped and searched her mother who had two small children with her at the time.”

Mr Murney claims the PSNI “directed their attention to a group of young people standing in a nearby garden who were attending an 18th birthday party at the house. The PSNI ran into the garden and arrested the young lad who was celebrating his birthday.”

Stephen maintains that vast numbers of people, including residents and witnesses have been condemning this particular incident throughout social networking sites.

Murney continued “These latest incidents prove what we have been saying all along. The PSNI are unaccountable to no one, they can do what they want, when they want.  A wide range of individuals are being relentlessly targeted by this militia; Adults, children, political activists and now we can add charity workers to the list of harassment victims”.

A police spokesperson said,

“Police in Newry refute any allegation of harassment. Police have a duty to investigate criminal activity and make communities safer. This is what you have asked us to do and this is what we will continue to do.

“Anyone who breaks the law will be investigated and may be arrested.

“Those who have a genuine complaint about the actions of police can contact the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

“There are numerous opportunities throughout Newry and Mourne, for those who genuinely want to make their communities safer, to discuss their concerns with police. I would invite Eirigi to engage with police and work together to address concerns.”

Referring to the arrest in Parkhead Crescent, the spokesperson said,

“An 18 year old male in Parkhead was arrested for breach of the peace and resisting arrest. He was dealt with by way of adult caution.”