Police apologise after ‘scallywags’ and ‘firebugs’ Facebook post

The original Facebook post. INNT 29-805CON
The original Facebook post. INNT 29-805CON

The police have issued an apology on social media following a controversial comment made on the PSNI Newtownabbey Facebook page last week.

In the early hours of Friday (July 15), following a report of suspicious activity at a business premises in the Longlands area, a controversial post, which referred to the youths involved as “scallywags” and “firebugs” appeared on the local PSNI Facebook page.

The post, which was accompanied by the hash tag “keepingpalletssafe,” read: “Tonight we got a call from a concerned member of the public in The Longlands area. A number of young scallywags were seen attempting to steal pallets from a local business. We managed to catch up with at least one of the young boys and he will be dealt with accordingly. Although pallets are seen by some as just bits of wood, they are quite costly to businesses to replace and it’s usually a local person owns that business.

“A number of the ‘firebugs’ did however get away. They’ll be feeling the cold tonight though as they left behind the coats their Mammy bought them for Christmas. One of them even left behind an expensive smart phone. If anyone would like to come forward and claim their belongings we would be very very very keen to speak with you! (Before we go through your phone).”

Hundreds of people were quick to respond to the post, referring to what appeared to be two-tiered approach to policing in the area.

One Facebook user said: “The Catholic kids are ‘firebugs’ and ‘scallywags’ yet Protestant kids stole and burnt thousands of pallets over the 12th and they were paid a grant to do so....????? But that’s none of my business!!!”

An apology from the PSNI appeared below the original post on Facebook yesterday morning.

It read: “It is clear this post has got plenty of people talking. Firstly, we would like to apologise for the language we used - it was never our intention to cause offence. We were responding to a report of theft and took the opportunity to use the power of social media to help us identify the owners of the property left behind. We are here to keep everyone safe and when crimes are reported to us we will investigate however there is learning for us here too and we aim to do better next time. We appreciate those who follow us on Facebook and Twitter and constructive criticism is always welcome.”

The Times had attempted to get a response on Friday morning from the PSNI about the original post, but a police spokesperson said that they did not believe any officer would be making further comment on the issue.