Northern Ireland

Londonderry riots: PSNI 'right' to publish boy's photo

CCTV footage from Operation Exposure
The police released scores of images of suspects taken from CCTV footage of rioting to newspapers

Police were justified in publishing a 14-year-old boy's photograph as part of an investigation into sectarian rioting in Londonderry, a court has ruled.

Senior judges at Belfast High Court held that a PSNI decision to release a series of images of suspects to local newspapers was a necessary step.

The pictures were released after sustained street violence at an interface area in the summer of 2010.

Lawyers for the boy had claimed the decision breached his right to privacy.

'Operation Exposure'

His picture appeared in two newspapers.

But Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: "I am satisfied, however, that in this case the balance came down firmly in favour of the publication of the photographs."

Images of youths suspected of involvement in the disorder appeared in the press during a police initiative known as Operation Exposure.

It followed three months of sectarian paint bombings, petrol bombings and missile attacks in the Fountain Street and Bishop Street areas of the city.

Residents of a nearby nursing home were said to be too frightened to venture out, while community leaders reported having lost any control over the young people involved.

The court heard how a phased release of images of the suspects led to a dramatic reduction in crime and disorder.

Thirty-seven children and young people were identified through the publication of the images.

Five were charged with offences and the rest entered into youth diversion or youth conferencing programmes.

'Name and shame'

The boy who took the legal challenge against the decision to publish his photo cannot be identified.

His legal team sought to judicially review the PSNI's decision, arguing that the operation was part of a name and shame policy without due process.

Sir Declan acknowledged the importance of protecting the welfare of children in the criminal justice system.

But in dismissing the challenge, he said the detection of offenders by arresting them at the scene was not feasible due to the disorder.

The judge said the interface violence was persistent and had exposed vulnerable people to risk of injury.

He added there was a pressing need to bring the trouble to an end and all other reasonably practical methods, short of publishing the photos, had been tried in an attempt to identify those responsible.

Sir Declan said the police had a responsibility to track down offenders quickly, so they could provide support and prevent reoffending among children involved in disorder.

He said: "I consider that the publication was necessary for the administration of justice and was not excessive in the circumstances."

The judge also rejected the characterisation of the operation as a name and shame policy.

'Stigmatisation'

"This was a process which was designed to protect the public by preventing reoffending and ensuring that the children involved were diverted if at all possible," he said.

"That reflected the need to protect the children and address their welfare in circumstances where they were exposed to sectarian public disorder.

"The risk of stigmatisation could not outweigh those factors."

Two other judges, Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin, also dismissed the challenge.

According to Lord Justice Higgins, police exercised care and were sensitive to the issues involved.

"They engaged with the local community but in particular they carried out a human rights assessment of what they proposed to do," he said.

"This was extremely comprehensive and went much beyond what, in my view, they were required to do.

"That they did so deserves commendation," Lord Justice Higgins added.

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