The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, has found that the use of six Attenuated Energy Projectiles (AEPs) by the police during public disorder in north Belfast on 12 July 2012 was proportionate and necessary in the circumstances.
As in all instances when police use their firearms, the incident was referred by the Chief Constable to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation.
Police were confronted during the disorder by a hostile crowd who attacked them with petrol bombs, masonry, fireworks and many other items. Rioters also set fire to stolen vehicles and pushed them towards police lines.
The police stated that due to the severity of the attack and concerns about the safety of police officers, authorisation was given for the deployment of AEPs, and at 7.32pm warnings were given about their imminent use.
Police records obtained by Police Ombudsman investigators showed that between 7.35pm and 9.06pm, AEPs were used six times against members of the crowd. Each officer who fired a round documented their rationale for doing so.
Officer 1 stated that he observed two separate males in the process of throwing petrol bombs and discharged one AEP at each of them. Officer 2 discharged four AEPs, one at an individual with a petrol bomb and three at people who were attempting to set fire to a stolen car.
The police stated that four of the AEPs hit their targets. No arrests were made.
The officers who fired the AEPs said they had done so to prevent individual rioters who were intent on causing serious injury to officers, and believed that the use of such force was necessary and justified.
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 video evidence and other documentation available, Dr Maguire was satisfied that the AEP discharges in this instance were justified, proportionate and necessary in the circumstances.