THE mother of a North Belfast schoolboy who was assaulted in what police are treating as a sectarian-motivated hate crime says she is “thankful” he was not more badly injured.

The boy, who we're not naming, is aged 13 and from the York Road area. He was in the KFC restaurant in Brougham Street with friends when the incident happened at around 5.30pm on Sunday.

He was with two  friends when they were surrounded inside the premises by a number of youths who asked them where they were from and what religion they were. The young victim was then kicked and punched by the youths, requiring him to attend hospital for treatment to facial injuries. 

Police are treating the assault as a sectarian motivated hate crime.

Speaking to the North Belfast News, his mother said: “My son was in KFC to get a bite to eat. I said for him to ring me if he wanted picked up.

“About 20 minutes later, I got a phone call from him and I knew by his voice there was something wrong. He told me a crowd of boys came in to KFC and were asking him if he was Protestant or Catholic.

INCIDENT: KFC in Brougham Street

INCIDENT: KFC in Brougham Street

“I told him to stay there and I would be there as soon as possible to pick him up.

“I jumped in the car and he called me again and said, 'Mum, please come quicker.' He told me something had happened. He told me someone hit him.

“I got down and saw a crowd standing near the Tesco garage.

“My son told me he was standing at the counter waiting to order. A few of his friends were sitting down and the crowd of boys started questioning them and harassing them.

“My son was asked if he was Protestant or Catholic, to which he replied that he didn’t know what they meant. They also asked him where he was from and he just said about the road.

“One of them said, 'He must be a hun' and the next thing, he was kicked in the arm and punched on the side of the face.

“I rang the police. My son has come away from it relatively unscathed. He had a huge bump on his head which has gone down a bit. He was really shaken. He doesn’t go out much apart from the gym, football and stuff. He is not someone that runs about the streets.

“I am thankful he wasn’t injured bad. It could have been a lot worse.”

North Belfast DUP MLA Brian Kingston described the attack as “deplorable”.

“This is a deplorable hate crime by a cowardly sectarian bunch who did not know their victims but were clearly looking for a smaller number of Protestant youths that they could attack,” he said.

“When the mother of the attacked boy arrived, the same youths were seen in the grounds of Cityside Retail Park making their way out of the gate on North Queen Street and heading towards the New Lodge.

“Such sectarian attacks must have consequences for the perpetrators and I urge anyone with information to pass that on to the police. 

“With all the CCTV cameras in the vicinity of the KFC and Cityside Retail Park it must surely be possible to identify these youths so that they can be brought to justice. 

“I hope that the boy’s physical injuries will not be long-term but clearly such an experience will be traumatic for any person.

“Those who carried out this attack are condemned by their own actions. Whilst they may be seeking to escalate tensions in North Belfast, we would appeal for calm and for all efforts across the community to be put into bringing those responsible to justice.”

Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín added: “This incident during which a youth was assaulted was absolutely disgraceful and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms by political and civic leaders.

“My thoughts are with the victim and I wish him a speedy recovery.

“Those responsible need to be held accountable for their actions and I’d urge anyone with information to come forward as soon as possible.

“Sectarianism needs challenged every time it raises its ugly head and we all must unite to oppose it.”

Police in North Belfast are appealing for information.

A PSNI spokesperson said: “Enquiries into the incident are ongoing and anyone with any information or who may be able to help with the investigation, is asked to call officers at Tennent Street on the non-emergency number 101, quoting reference number 1543 03/07/22. 

“A report can also be made online using our non-emergency reporting form. 

“You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online."