AEP discharges during north Belfast violence were “proportionate and necessary”

Published Date: 18.09.2015

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, has found that the discharge of six Attenuated Energy Projectiles (AEPs) by the police during public disorder in north Belfast in September 2012 was proportionate and necessary in the circumstances.

The rounds were discharged during disturbances in the Denmark Street area on 3rd September 2012. Police had anticipated violence following trouble at nearby Carlisle Circus/Clifton Street the previous evening.

During the Police Ombudsman’s investigation into the incident, investigators obtained police records including radio transmissions, duty statements and notebooks as well as CCTV footage from the police helicopter and surrounding businesses. 

At around 7.20pm a crowd of around 100-150 people were reported to be gathering near Denmark Street.  At around 9.00pm a hijacked van was pushed towards police lines, and a short time later fire crackers and masonry were thrown at police.

As the disorder became more serious the police were authorised to use water cannon, and subsequently AEPs.  Authorisation for the use of AEPs was granted at around 10.00pm after petrol bomb attacks had been directed at police lines during an intensification of violence, and after reports that the amount of water required by the water cannon was unsustainable.

Police records obtained by Police Ombudsman investigators showed that between 10.07pm and 10.23pm four AEPs were discharged.  The officers who fired the rounds said they did so to prevent individual rioters who were advancing towards police lines with heavy masonry or other weapons.  The officers contended that their use of force was necessary and justified in order to prevent serious injury to either themselves or their colleagues.

By 10.24pm the water canon was back in use and authorisation for the use of AEPs was withdrawn.  The situation was continuously reviewed and at 10:40pm, police granted permission for officers to use AEPs at one area that the water canon was unable to reach.

At 22:53pm, two AEPs were discharged at a person who officers said was advancing toward police lines carrying heavy masonry.  

Permission to use AEPs was finally withdrawn shortly before midnight, by which stage the crowd was beginning to disperse.  In total six AEPs were fired, two of which hit their intended target.

Police guidance on the use of AEPs states that they should only be deployed when absolutely necessary to prevent the loss of life or serious injury.  They should not be used as a crowd control tactic, but rather against selected aggressive individuals. 

On the basis of the available evidence the Ombudsman was satisfied that because of the level of violence faced and the limitations of the water cannon, the use of AEP during this incident was justified and appropriate.


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