With crowds set to return to Derry/Londonderry for their annual Halloween festival, the Police Service of Northern Ireland are asking the public to be vigilant about a crime that may be hidden in plain sight.

The Halloween parade traditionally involves hundreds of local performers, drawn from schools, clubs and groups right across the City and District. The event will extend across the River Foyle in an extended four night programme, from 28th-31st October.

As part of the Police’s ongoing ‘Make Safe’ campaign, local neighbourhood policing teams, alongside officers from the dedicated Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Team will be at the festival speaking to members of the public, educating them on what to look out for that may indicate a child is at risk of CSE.

With people from all parts of Northern Ireland set to be attending the Halloween event over the half-term, Police do not want potential perpetrators to use the guise of the busy Halloween period to hide their criminal activity in plain sight.

Any child can be exploited or abused, no matter their background, culture, ethnicity, religion or gender.  There are lots of signs to look for:

  • Adults befriending young people
  • Adults who have been noted visiting with different young people
  • Adults accompanying young people and acting in an intimate way with them
  • Adults who are accompanying young people who look to be confused or distressed
  • Adults buying alcoholic drinks for someone expected to be under 18
  • Picking young people up in your taxi and dropping them at a local hotel at odd times of the day/night
  • Adult guests requesting a room that is isolated
  • Adult guests accessing pornography in a room where you think a child may be present

The Halloween event is scheduled to be the first in two years due to the pandemic. Therefore it is vital that training and awareness raising is in place to teach people on how to spot the signs and give them the confidence to report to Police if they feel something is not right.

This activity will continue across all other Districts in Northern Ireland over the next year.

Detective Chief Inspector Kerry Brennan, who will be leading this operation said: “For almost a year now, the Police Service of Northern Ireland have been working with the hospitality and night time economy sector, educating staff on how to spot the signs of child sexual exploitation.

“Perpetrators of these crimes are incredibly manipulating, and the child may not recognise they are being exploited. Part of the grooming process can be bringing them to fun places they may otherwise not have the opportunity to go to.

“With crowds from all over Northern Ireland set to be attending this year’s Halloween celebrations, our officers will be out asking the public to be vigilant of children who may be at risk.

“Child Sexual Exploitation often happen in plain sight, therefore it’s so important to arm the wider public at this event with the knowledge of how to spot the signs and the confidence to report their suspicions to the Police.”

If you’re concerned about a child’s welfare and think they may be being exploited, please report it to Police online, via 101 or 999 in an emergency.

You can also contact independent the charity CrimeStoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or via crimestoppers-uk.org