Police justified in firing 22 AEPs during north Belfast violence

The Police Ombudsman has concluded that police were justified in firing 22 AEP baton rounds during rioting in the Oldpark Road area of north Belfast on the evening of 11-12 July 2011.

In line with normal protocol, police advised the Police Ombudsman about the use of AEPs, and the Police Ombudsman’s Office then launched an investigation into the circumstances of their use. Investigators examined all relevant police documentation, CCTV footage and radio transmissions.

Police were first alerted to the potential for trouble at 10.35pm on 11 July, when they received reports that youths had begun to gather at the junction of Oldpark Road and Rosapenna Street.

Police units were sent to the area, and upon arrival came under attack by a crowd of around 20-30 youths throwing stones, masonry and petrol bombs.

Two youths were arrested as police conducted two rapid advances on foot, but the rioting continued and officers were forced to take cover behind Land Rovers.

Police also noted that a large crowd had gathered outside a nearby public house and decided not to conduct further rapid advances for fear of drawing this larger crowd into the disorder.

Community representatives were asked to use their influence to help bring the violence to an end, but they advised they would be unable to help given the large number of people involved.

At 11.56pm officers reported that they were coming under sustained attack and requested that water cannon be deployed to the area. None was available, and permission was instead granted for the use of baton rounds against rioters deemed to pose a serious risk to life.

A public address system was used to advise that if the violence continued, baton rounds would be used. The crowd appeared to ignore the warning and over the course of the next two hours, a total of 22 baton rounds were discharged. Seventeen were recorded as having struck their intended target.

During the violence, rioters set fire to a car, and industrial bins were set alight and pushed at police lines.

A number of police officers were injured, including two who were taken to hospital with head injuries.

The evidence showed that the use of baton rounds had been authorised only after other tactics – such as rapid advances, the use of water cannon, and the issuing of verbal warnings – had been considered or tried to no avail.

The necessity for the use of baton rounds had been regularly reviewed, based on information from officers at the scene, as well as live CCTV footage.

The officers who discharged baton rounds were fully trained in their use, and all rounds discharged during the violence were properly recorded and accounted for.

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded that the use of baton rounds was lawful, necessary and proportionate given the risk posed to the safety of officers and members of the public during the disorder.

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