29/04/2014

PSNI Appeals Protest Judgement

The PSNI has said it will appeal a verdict by a judge who said that officers had facilitated illegal loyalist flag protests through a misapprehension regarding the law.

High Court Judge Mr Justice Treacy said a senior officer had been mistaken in believing he was legally prevented from stopping parades and making arrests.

Last year, numerous "flag protests" were held across Northern Ireland, and specifically in Belfast, after Belfast City councillors voted to restrict the flying of the union flag atop City Hall.

In total, over 100 police officers were injured and more than 560 people charged or reported in connection with public disorder that saw groups of people attacking police with bricks, golf balls, bottles, concrete slabs and other missiles.

But Chief Constable Matt Baggot said: "We are studying this judgement carefully but whilst respecting the judge and his decision, it does raise a number of serious operational dilemmas. At the time I said our approach would be measured and responsible and that people would be brought to justice. They have with nearly 700 charged and yet not a member of the public seriously injured. I do not believe we would be in a place today where political dialogue about parading would be possible without such restraint.
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"I am concerned that this judgement may constrain their operational flexibility and create an expectation that police will always be able to stop protests or arrest people at the time, irrespective of the circumstances. To do so may require significant force and undermine our attempts to work with communities. That would be wrong. As such we are appealing the judgement."

The judge also raised the issue of a resident of the predominantly nationalist Short Strand area of east Belfast, who went to court in a bid to address the PSNI's alleged failure to provide assurance that no further parade would take place near his house.

"Throughout the months of the flag protests, our over-riding concern was always safety of all communities and the protection of life," Matt Baggot continued. "This judgement does not appear to take account of the sheer scale of the protests, the intensity of disorder and the potential for escalation. Indeed on one night we had over 80 separate protests to police, without recourse to the army or at that time mutual aid.

"To clarify, I take full responsibility for all operational decisions and I stand over them. Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr was one of a number of gold commanders because of the length of the dispute. I would rather be accused of being 'soft' at the time than see many people injured and the future jeopardised. Justice has been done."

(IT)

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