Woman Held After Search For 'Missing Baby'

A woman has been arrested on suspicion of wasting police time after a major
search was launched for a baby thought to be lost at sea.

The land and sea operation in Belfast Lough was cancelled when officers said initial reports that an infant had fallen from a ferry were incorrect.

The search got under way after the woman plunged from the Stena Line vessel as it made its way into port from Cairnryan in Scotland on Wednesday night.

Police said they were told that the woman, who fell into the sea as the boat arrived in Belfast, had a baby with her, prompting an extensive search.

But after a complex police investigation, which included interviewing the woman's family, officers said they no longer believed a child was in her care at the time.

The woman was pulled from the water by the crew of a pilot boat about 15 minutes after the alarm was raised.

The 37-year-old, from Belfast, who was taken to the city's Royal Victoria Hospital for treatment, is now in custody for questioning.

The incident happened in the lough, close to Holywood, Co Down, at around 6.10pm on Wednesday night on a busy shipping route for passengers and freight between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Agencies, including the police helicopter, the Irish Coastguard and the RNLI were involved in the search operation which continued long into the night and resumed early in the morning.

John McPoland, a spokesman for the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service , said of the woman: "She had been in the water for a while so you can understand that with the coldness of the water she would have been hypothermic."

All Stena Line sailings to and from Belfast were cancelled and Belfast harbour was closed for a short time.

Police officers boarded the ferry, which was docked in Belfast Port.

A police spokesman said: "Following an extensive search operation involving several agencies and volunteers and after enquiries with the 37-year-old woman and her family, police now understand the report of a baby going into the water was incorrect.

"Police do not believe there was a baby in the woman's care on the ferry."