Northern Ireland

Woman accused of abducting child from Park Centre in west Belfast released on bail

Judge holds that the circumstances surrounding the drink-fuelled incident do not indicate any serious risk to the public

Noeleen Creen
Noeleen Creen

A woman accused of randomly abducting a one-year-old child at a west Belfast shopping centre is to be released from custody, the High Court ruled on Thursday.

Noeleen Creen (38) was granted bail amid claims she carried the infant from a store in the Park Centre before his alarmed mother managed to grab him back.

A judge held that the circumstances surrounding the drink-fuelled incident on Monday afternoon do not indicate any serious risk to the public.

Madam Justice McBride said: “It appears to have occurred not as a planned event, but rather a spur of the moment or spontaneous event.”

Creen, of Bunbeg Park in the Lenadoon area of west Belfast, faces a single charge of child abduction.

She was arrested after security were alerted and the retail complex on the Donegall Road went into a temporary lockdown.

Prosecutors claimed Creen picked up the little boy and attempted to leave one of the shops in the Park Centre with him.

“She was stopped after about five to ten metres by the child’s mother, who snatched the child away from her,” a Crown lawyer said.

Creen was located and detained at a nearby seating area in the mall.

A short time earlier she had also approached and kissed the forehead of another child accompanied by its parents, the court heard.

That family left the shopping centre before police arrived.

Both incidents were random and captured on CCTV footage, according to the prosecution.

In a “disjointed” account to detectives who questioned her, Creen claimed that she drank half a bottle of vodka and visited a friend in hospital before going to the Park Centre.

“She answered a lot of ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybe the child was upset and I was comforting it… it was one of them things’,” prosecution counsel disclosed.

The mother-of-four eventually accepted having no clear memory of what happened and described herself as “gobsmacked” at being arrested.

“She was non-committal when asked if she would be ok with a stranger picking up her child like that,” the lawyer added.

Denying the abduction charge, she told police that she would not have sat down again in the mall if her intention was to snatch the child.

Creen’s barrister, Aileen Smyth, described it as a bizarre incident involving an alcoholic defendant.

“She is a lady that is pitiful in her addiction rather than malevolent,” Ms Smyth said.

The court heard she was so intoxicated police had to wait for nine hours to carry out interviews.

Referring to the CCTV footage, Ms Smyth said it showed Creen stumbling from a bench in the mall and initially making a “gesture of affection” to an older child aged around seven.

She also insisted that the accused then carried the infant back towards the seating area and not the exit.

“The mother of the child obviously intercepts this, I’m sure with some degree of alarm,” counsel acknowledged.

“There are headlines about this which would cause concern, but it seems quite a sad rather than sinister incident.”

Granting bail, Madam Justice McBride banned Creen from drinking alcohol in public and ordered her to seek medical help within a week of release from custody.

“This is a case which (appears) very alarming,” the judge said.

“But in terms of the facts I am satisfied they don’t indicate there is a very serious risk to the public.

“It was of short duration and probably precipitated by the fact the applicant was under the influence and she is someone who has an addiction problem.”