THE PSNI has apologised to Rushpark residents after officers failed to respond to a 999 call about a man touching himself inappropriately while talking to children who were playing in the estate’s new play area.
Mother-of-one Lorraine Wright told the Times how she chased the man away from the park and asked a neighbour, Trevor McIlwaine, to call the police. However, despite an emergency call being made by Mr McIlwaine shortly before 6pm on Tuesday (May 14), officers never arrived.
“My son and some of the other kids were playing at the park and I was taking the dog out so I decided to go down and check on them. I noticed a young fella, no more than 30, standing against the outside of the railings talking to the kids. He was drinking a tin of beer and he had his hand down the front of his trousers,” Lorraine said.
“One of the kids, a wee girl, came running up to me and said the man had been asking her name and said ‘please get him away from me’. He’d also asked my son, Corey, to go for a walk with him.
“I went over to confront him and he walked off towards Hazelbank. I shouted to my neighbour to phone the police and tell them what happened and he said he’d phoned them and they were on their way.
“Myself and Jason (a neighbour) followed him over towards Hazelbank and he stopped in the subway. My blood was boiling so I went over and confronted him and asked him what he thought he was doing. He said ‘I didn’t mean it’ and just kept saying he was sorry.”
Lorraine says the man then threw his beer tin on the ground and made off through Hazelbank Park in the direction of Whiteabbey.
“We hung around for ages and went back over to the play park, but there was no sign of the police. If they had’ve sent a car down, even within about 20 minutes, they would’ve caught him.
“What if a child had been taken, it’s so scary. It doesn’t bear thinking about,” she added.
Initially the police said they had no record of receiving a call about the incident. However, it has since been confirmed that the call was received, but not properly logged.
“I actually gave the call handler a description of Lorraine and what she was wearing and that she had a dog with her. They told me a car was on its way and that the information would be passed on to them,” Mr McIlwaine commented.
“Then the police come out and say there was no call; I feel like I’ve been made out to be a liar. What do they think I am, some sort of Billy Liar who’s seeking attention?”
Local community representative Phil Hamilton said that residents in the area were extremely angry that the police didn’t respond to the 999 call.
“We need an apology from the police and we need an explanation about what actually happened. There was clearly some sort of breakdown in communication between the call handling centre and Newtownabbey police. What if this man had turned violent, the situation could have been a lot more serious,” he said.
“This community needs answers. People can’t just be fobbed off. Confidence in the police is low enough and this sort of thing does nothing to improve the situation.”
A PSNI spokesperson described the mishandling of the call as “an oversight”.
“We can now confirm that a call was made to police in relation to this incident, however the call was not properly logged on the system for the appropriate response.
“This matter is now being investigated internally and we regret any distress caused.”
It’s understood that officers have now begun an investigation into the incident at the play park and have appealed for witnesses to come forward.
Read more in next week’s Times...