Police in Northern Ireland have been slammed after an officer was pictured performing a stop and search on a girl of 10.
The image was posted on social media showing the youngster, dressed in a purple coat, being spoken to by the female cop on a footpath.
The incident took place in the Falls Road area of West Belfast on Tuesday night.
Republican group Saoradh have condemned the stop and search, saying it left the girl “terrified”, Belfast Live reports.
However, they and the police have issued statements about the incident offering differing versions of events.
West Belfast police commander, Chief Inspector Norman Haslett confirmed that a police patrol stopped a vehicle on the Falls at around tea time “to speak with the driver and an adult passenger”.
He added: “From the outset, police officers were aware of a female child who was also in the vehicle.
A police officer asked the driver if he would prefer if the conversation between himself and the police took place out of view and earshot of the child.
“The driver of the vehicle declined this offer. During a subsequent search of the adults and of the vehicle, the child left the vehicle of her own free will and stood on the footpath.
“When the search was complete, police asked the driver if, due to the cold conditions, the child wished to get back into the vehicle. This offer was declined by the driver.
"During the interaction, a female police officer spoke to the child and a photograph of this was taken and subsequently posted on social media alongside a number of comments.
“In instances such as this, the welfare of children needs to be everyone’s concern and I have reinforced to my officers the need to be protective of young people and that they are not suspects.
"As always, we are open to challenge and discussion about the use of stop and search and I am acutely aware that there are different views and narratives about its use in West Belfast.
“The West Belfast PCSP have an important role to play in local policing accountability and I would welcome the opportunity to brief the Chair and members of the West Belfast PCSP on the use of police stop & search at their convenience.”
Chf Insp Haslett said that the “appropriate and sensitive use of stop and search powers remains a key tool in tackling crime and ensuring community safety right across the greater Belfast area”.
But he added: “As with every such interaction between police and the public, any learning for police will be reflected upon as we continue to do our job to protect the community from harm.”
However Risteard O Murchu, a spokesman for Saoradh, described the girl as being “interrogated” by the police.
He said that the girl was stopped “while accompanying her Republican father on his way to deliver the Proclamation news sheet to homes in the Ballymurphy area”.