A TEENAGER had been handed a curfew after he was found guilty of a hate crime against a transgender PCSO.

Declan Joel Armstrong, 19, of Victory Court in Mold, had denied using threatening words or behaviour against Connor Freel in October last year, but had been convicted following a trial on January 23. PCSO Freel had been out on patrol, in full uniform, on October 16 and was walking down Chester Street, in the direction of Mold Police station when he noticed Armstrong and a female friend, who were both on push bikes on the opposite side of the road.

Rhian Jackson, prosecuting, said how PCSO Freel had known both the defendant and his friend for around 12 years, having grown up with them in the local community. It was around 12 noon when Armstrong shouted in the officer's direction, "is it a boy or is it a girl", which he took as being aimed at him, as a transgender person. The female with Armstrong smiled at the officer and the exact same comment was shouted at him again. The incident left the officer feeling "upset and embarrassed" as the town had been busy at the time with plenty of footfall from the weekly market that was taking place that day.

PCSO Freel works closely with North Wales Police Diversity Unit and took part in a campaign in 2018 to highlight the challenges faced by people who have transitioned from one sex to another and the hate crime they can be subjected to. He decided to make a complaint about the abusive comments shouted at him by Armstrong, as he felt they had been done with very little regard for the uniform he was wearing at the time.

In a victim personal statement, PCSO Freel said he regularly talks to youths about the importance of recognising and reporting hate crime against transgender people. He said he knew he was putting himself "in the public eye" and in a vulnerable position when taking such an active lead on the issue and becoming involved in promoting diversity. The comments made by Armstrong had caused him "distress" and "embarrassment" and he stated how he had joined North Wales Police to stand up for marginalised members of the community.

He said it was not acceptable to shout abuse and especially at people who were there to protect the public and how the incident had left him feeling reluctant to undertake foot patrols in the area as it might lead to more negative behaviour. However, he said that not challenging such behaviour would only seek to re-enforce that it was acceptable.

When interviewed by police, Armstrong told officers he had been cycling back to his friend's home after they had both been the chip shop for their lunch and that he didn't make the alleged comments.

Probation officer Tracey Flavell, who interviewed Armstrong before the hearing, told the court that although he had been found guilty at a trial, he continued to deny he had made the comments and suggested because the town centre had been busy on the day, that PCSO Freel had "made a mistake". She said Armstrong had no underlying derogatory attitudes but was unable to analyse it any further due to him maintained his innocence.

Mrs Flavell told the court that Armstrong, who has Asperger's, lived with his mother and grand parents, and acted as a full time carer for the man he consider's to be his father, assisting him with shopping tasks around his home. She said that although Armstrong demonstrated limited maturity, she considered him to be of low risk of a reconviction and that the intervention of probation was not necessary at this stage, due to a lack of a pattern in his behaviour. She did however state that he had shown some insight into the distress that could be caused by making such comments.

Gary Harvey, defending, said his client had told him that he doesn't really know the victim at all and holds no prejudice against anyone. Armstrong would be very embarrassed to read about the incident in the paper, he said, and that the matter would clearly "taint him". Mr Harvey said his client had been through enough stress to consider appealing against his conviction and requested that the District Judge consider him as a man of good character.

District Judge Roger Lowe agreed and told Armstrong that he had not heard the evidence against him but that the Magistrates had found him guilty following a trial. He went on to say that he would be taking the view of the probation service that he did not hold any prejudicial views or have entrenched discriminatory attitudes.

District Judge Lowe said how the incident had been aggravated by the fact Mr Freel was a PCSO and had been on uniformed duty at the time and that he would have to uplift his sentence due to the nature of the crime.

Armstrong must observe a curfew between the hours of 9pm-7am for the next 12 weeks and was ordered to pay £200 compensation to his victim, which the Judge said he hoped Mr Freel wouldn't be insulted by, but he "had to put a figure on it". Armstrong must also pay costs of £300 and a surcharge of £90.