Police in Bristol are treating an incident in which a white woman hit a 12-year-old black boy on the forehead with paddle as racially motivated after initially deciding not to prosecute.
A review, overseen by a senior officer, has been launched into the attack, which left Antwon Forrest, who is an autistic, needing hospital treatment for a deep cut. Avon and Somerset police have apologised for how they handled the case.
There was an outcry after Antoon’s family published images of the boy’s injury and video of the woman, who works for a luxury car company, confronting him and other children at a riverside park.
The woman was arrested, but three weeks later an officer told the boy’s family that no further action was being taken because the alleged attacker said she had acted in self-defence and felt “threatened”.
Antoon’s family said they believe the incident could have been a hate crime because the woman appeared to have clashed with him rather than any of the white friends he was with.
On Tuesday the force said it was treating the incident as racially motivated and appealed for more witnesses.
The Bristol commander, Supt Mark Runacres, another senior officer, Ch Insp Mike Buck, and a community leader have met the boy’s father.
Buck said: “We have complete empathy with his family and listened carefully to what he had to say. We gave a full commitment to carry out a comprehensive review. We’ve re-classified this incident as being racially motivated and we have a detective sergeant leading the review, with oversight from a senior officer.
“The review will include identifying and taking statements from as many people who witness this incident as possible, locating and viewing all available footage, re-examining 999 calls, compiling medical evidence and liaising with relevant partner agencies.
“There will be learnings coming out of this. We’ve already identified the family should have been offered a right to review following the initial decision not to take any further action, and we have said sorry for that.”
The boy’s father, Tyran Forrest, who is mixed race, said on Friday: “If it was me that had hit a white child, I would be in jail right now.”
Forrest claimed some of the children – but not Antwon – were throwing mudballs at passing boats, including one being paddled by the woman. What followed allegedly involved some pushing and shouting and ended up with Antoon being struck by the woman with a paddle.
Antoon’s cut was so deep it had to be glued together. The incident took place at Conham River park in south Gloucestershire on 26 March.