Outrage over a toddler in nappies behind bars in the back of a paddy-wagon.

From The NT News

Warning: This post deals with child abuse and may be distressing for some readers.

A toddler in nappies photographed in the back of a paddy wagon.

It’s an image making waves around Australia, debate raging over whether the child should have been behind bars in a paddy wagon in the first place and a secondary debate over whether the photographer should have taken the image.

The incident took place last Thursday and was front-page news over the weekend. News Limited report that police were called after reports were made that the 15-month old child was in danger having been being ‘belted’ by its 15-year mother.

Police arrived at the Alice Springs block of flats and found the young mother bleeding from her face.

John McRoberts, Commissioner of Police said in a statement “Police were faced with a bleeding, distressed 15 year old mother holding her crying child who had no obvious signs of injury. The officers tried to speak with the young woman but she was aggressive and refused to allow them to check on the child’s condition.”

The NT News describe the mother’s injuries as occurring as a result of her being attacked by family members attempting to stop her harming her child.

The photographer who took the image of the child, Justin Brierty, told The NT News. “When I heard the child’s voice coming from the back of the paddy wagon, making baby noises, I thought, ‘This is not right,’” He said.

Police say it was a highly volatile situation

The newspaper report claims that police then tried to prevent him taking photos of the young Aboriginal toddler.

In his piece for News Limited journalist Paul Toohey claims, “THIS should not happen in Australia”.

But in his response John Roberts says that the “presence of a news photographer further aggravated the situation”.

The Police Commissioner, John Roberts says that the only way the police could calm the young mother down was to place her in the paddy wagon. He says it was a “highly volatile situation” and placing the child and mother in the vehicle “reduced the risk of the child being injured and appeared to calm the young woman.”

The head of the Prime Minister’s indigenous advisory council Warren Mundine told The NT News he was appalled. “I’m very shaken by it. It’s just bizarre. I understand the police situation but it’s a clear illustration you have to do things better. It’s madness the way we do things.”

The Police car drove the child and mother away both still in the back of the vehicle. According to police this was done to achieve privacy from the photographer.

Reports are that the young mother was arrested and the child placed in the custody of the Department of Children and Families.

Why did the situation occur in the first place?

For Police Commissioner John Roberts the real issue was not the way the police dealt with the situation but the fact the situation ever occurred at all.

“The challenge for all of us” he said in his statement “is to work in a collegiate and cooperative way to deal with the real issue, that is, why were police called in the first place?”