Northern Ireland

Ulster University film students mistaken for robbers

Film Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Film

Students making a film were confronted by armed police when they were mistaken for armed robbers in County Londonderry.

A passer-by raised the alarm on Wednesday after seeing a man wearing a balaclava and holding a gun in a takeaway restaurant in Portstewart.

Police ordered the man to put down the gun and discovered that the robbers were Ulster University film students.

The students' union said the incident was an "unfortunate misunderstanding".

The owner of the restaurant, Kabeer Kher, said he had given the film crew a key to let themselves into the restaurant.

"I got a text from one of the film crew saying the police had called after someone saw one of them with a balaclava on," he said.

"Then I got a call from the Coleraine Chronicle [newspaper] saying it was an armed response unit and they had wrestled the guy in the balaclava to the ground.

"It's nice to know the public are looking out for us and the armed response got there in six minutes, so that's good to know if anything ever does happen," Mr Kher said.

The president of the Coleraine campus students' union, Mark Bell, told BBC Radio Foyle's News at One programme that the students had sought permission from Coleraine Borough Council and from the restaurant where they were filming.

"They informed me that when they were speaking to the council they asked what other statutory bodies needed to be notified and they weren't given any additional people to contact about it," he said.

"The students in question are traumatised from the incident and are trying to get on and complete this media project.

'Informal chat'

"Ultimately, when the police officers became involved, I think they saw what they believed to be a legitimate situation and they responded appropriately to a very unfortunate mix-up.

"As soon as the students became aware and saw the armed response officers and they realised what had happened, they dropped the (fake) weapon immediately and put their hands up."

Ch Insp Catherine Magee said: "Officers approached and the man was ordered to put the weapon on the ground.

"It subsequently transpired that the scenario had been staged by some local students and the situation was quickly de-escalated."

The PSNI has said it hopes to have an "informal chat" with some of the students involved later this week.

In a statement, Ulster University said: "We are aware of the incident in Portstewart yesterday and are working closely with the PSNI. The university plans to conduct a full investigation."