A SHOPKEEPER has told how he was arrested and forced to spend a night in the cells after playfully tapping a four-year-old boy on the head.
Mohammad Arshad, 51, was locked up for 16 hours despite protesting his innocence – but agreeing to pay a £200 police fine.
He did not appear in court and was eventually released from custody after the Crown Office accepted the payment as an alternative to prosecution.
The greengrocer, who runs Leith Walk Fruits, said a “joke” that got out of hand landed him in hot water after the child’s mother believed he struck the boy.
Mr Arshad said he had known the family for 13 years and had been “playing” with the boy.
“The boy comes in here twice a day and is my friend,” said the shopkeeper. “He came in and pushed me so I said ‘don’t do that’. The mother thought I slapped him.
“I’m 51 years old and I spent 16 hours in custody, which was a hard time for me. I have been in business 16 years, 26 years in Scotland, and have never done anything wrong.”
He added: “I never really hit him, I was playing around and was laughing with him and his mum took it seriously.”
Mum Katie O’Donnell, 24, said her son, who was left with a red mark on his face, was now too frightened to return to the shop.
She hit out at the justice system she feels has let her son Derrin down.
“Derrin had run into the shop ahead of me and by the time I got into the shop I looked up and he had grabbed him by his hand and slapped him on the left-hand side of the face,” she said.
“When he grabbed my son by the arm it wasn’t gentle, he looked angry and his face was red. I was in shock and angry and I said ‘what are you doing? You have no right to hit him’.
“He got angry back but there were witnesses – a couple – reassuring me. The woman was in shock and the guy said he couldn’t believe it. He [Derrin] wasn’t bruised or anything, but he [Mr Arshad] used force and it doesn’t matter how you cut it, he still hit him. The boy had a red mark on his face but didn’t cry because he knew the man.
“I was angry and really hurting and upset about the whole thing – I would never hit my son, so no-one can.”
Miss O’Donnell said the punishment meted out was far too light.
She said: “You expect justice and for the courts to take this kind of thing seriously. Grown men shouldn’t be raising their hands to children, let alone a shopkeeper to a customer.”
In cases deemed to be of a “less serious nature”, even though the Procurator Fiscal may consider that it is in the public interest to take action, prosecution may not be the most appropriate course of action. In such cases matters can be dealt with by way of a fine.
A Crown Office spokesman said: “The Procurator Fiscal at Edinburgh received a report concerning a 50-year-old male in connection with an alleged incident on 10 February 2013.
“After full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the report, the accused was liberated from custody and did not appear in court. “The case remains under consideration.”
The incident has raised the debate about striking children, says Anne Houston, chief executive of charity Children 1st.
She said: “In Scotland it is still possible to physically assault a child. There are certain things you cannot do such as strike them with a hand, leave a mark or hit them with an implement. However, there is still a defence of justifiable assault.
“It is against the law to assault any other person in the country apart from those who are the smallest and most vulnerable in society.
“The law needs to be changed, – once it is changed, the behaviour follows.”
A novel perspective
The Slap is a novel by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas which follows the aftermath of an incident in which a man slaps a child who is not his own.
The boy’s parents take the man to court, with far-reaching consequences for a group of friends. Tsiolkas intended the novel to challenge modern views on parenting, the rights of children and the different perspectives of men and women.
An eight-part TV adaptation was aired on BBC Four.