Police were justified in discharging five AEPs (baton rounds) during rioting in Carrickfergus associated with the flags protests on 11 January 2013, a Police Ombudsman investigation has concluded.
Police came under attack by crowds throwing bricks, paint bombs, heavy masonry and armed with scaffolding poles and other weapons, during several hours of disturbances in the town.
The Police Ombudsman’s on-call team was informed by police within 15 minutes of the first baton round having been fired, and commenced an investigation into the circumstances of their use.
Police Ombudsman investigators reviewed all relevant police documentation, including officers’ notebook entries, computer logs and all available CCTV footage of the violence.
This showed that shortly after 6pm, police had received reports of buses having been set on fire. Within an hour police lines were being attacked by crowds throwing stones and fireworks.
At about 7.30pm, an officer reported being attacked with what appeared to be acid, while other officers said deliberate attempts were being made to disable police vehicles by attacking their radiators, windows and lights.
Officer reported being attacked with what appeared to be acid.
A police Land Rover was also forced to withdraw as its windscreen had been covered in paint.
The main violence was in the Marine Highway and Albert Road West areas of the town.
Of the five AEP rounds discharged, four were recorded as having hit their targets. Three were fired by an officer deployed at Marine Highway, who recalled police being confronted by a crowd of about 100 people, about 40 of whom were attacking police vehicles.
He said heavy pieces of masonry were being thrown at the vehicles, and an axe-like weapon improvised from metal scaffolding was being used to break armoured windows.
Shortly before 7.45pm a warning was issued to the crowd via a public address system that AEPs would be used if the rioting continued.
The officer said he then deployed his AEP launcher through a porthole in the side of the Land Rover, which resulted in the crowd temporarily moving away, only to continue attacking with the same ferocity shortly afterwards.
He recorded that the first round was discharged at a man who was running towards his vehicle’s front passenger side window, which was already substantially damaged, with a large piece of masonry. The round missed its target and struck the road.
Two further rounds were discharged by the officer at rioters he said had ran towards the front of his vehicle, the first with a small metallic item, the second with a large piece of masonry. Both were recorded as having hit their targets on the thigh.
Of the two rounds discharged by the other officer, the first was recorded as having been aimed at a man who was using a large piece of masonry to attack the radiator of a police Land Rover at Marine Highway. The round hit him on the hip and he ran off.
The second was fired at about 8.20pm at Albert Road West. The officer recalled seeing a man lean around a corner and raise his left hand as if raising a gun. When the man raised his hand a second time, the officer discharged an AEP, which he said struck the man in the groin area.
Officer recalled seeing a man lean around a corner and raise his left hand as if raising a gun.
The officer’s account of the man moving his hand as if aiming a gun was confirmed by another officer.
Authorisation for the use of AEPs was rescinded shortly after 8.20pm as a police water cannon had arrived in the area.
Having reviewed the evidence, the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that the use of AEPs was justified given the severity of the rioting.
“The use of AEPs in these circumstances was lawful and in accordance with legislation and guidelines,” he said.