'Firing of baton rounds justified' - Police Ombudsman

Published Date: 28.05.2002

Embargo: 00:01 Hrs Tuesday May 28 2002. 
A Police Ombudsman report into the police use of plastic baton rounds in seven riots during the past 12 months says that officers were not only justified but on one occasion were restrained in their use of the weapon. 
The report, which has been presented to the Secretary of State, covers seven major civil disturbances during the past twelve months: three in North Belfast, three in Portadown and one in Lurgan. 
In all, 36 baton rounds w ere fired in the seven incidents. 26 people were hit – two of them were injured twice. 24 of the people who were struck by batons were hit in the leg and thigh areas and three on the torso. More than 110 police officers were injured, some of them seriously. 
Throughout the United Kingdom, investigations are undertaken any time a police firearm is discharged: in Northern Ireland the Chief Constable has asked that the Ombudsman carry out this work. 
The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O’Loan, said such investigations are rigorous: 
“Our investigators look at a range of issues. They establish if other options w ere considered before using baton rounds, ask why the weapons were used, and establish if that use was proportionate. We also look at whether the weapons were used in accordance with police instruction and training. 
Such investigations can involve visiting the scene where the riot has taken place and if necessary ‘mapping’ it, searching for video recordings of the incidents, visiting hospitals to establish if medical staff have treated baton round injuries, taking statements from police officers and examining police documentation. 
Our investigations are evidence based and we rely on people who have witnessed incidents we are investigating to come forward and tell us what they may have seen,” she explained 
Mrs O’Loan said that the police use of baton rounds in the incidents examined had been fully justified 
“Typically officers w ere coming under vicious attacks from a variety of weapons, including firew orks, petrol, paint, acid and blast bombs. 
In all the instances the use of baton rounds were fully justified. Indeed, the police frequently acted with considerable restraint. In one instance there are grounds for suggesting that baton rounds might have been 
introduced even earlier than they were.” 
North Belfast 
The report recounts riots in North Belfast on the night and early morning of June 20 – 21 2001 when police came under attack from rioters in both the Glenbryn and Brompton Park areas. Eleven baton rounds were fired and seven people were hit. In all, 39 officers were injured in the riots. 
“The police had been subject to violent, organised and pre planned attacks that night and their use of batons was fully justified. In fact the officers demonstrated considerable restraint. 
I would also add that we did not find any evidence to suggest the police response was weighted against either the Nationalist or Loyalist protestors,” said Mrs O’Loan. 
The report reached similar conclusions about the use of baton rounds during riots at the Ardoyne Roundabout on the night of July 26 2001. 
“Two members of the public complained they had been hit by batons. One later withdrew the complaint. The statement given by the other was found to be unreliable,” said Mrs O’Loan. 
Police Ombudsman investigators also concluded that the police were at serious risk of injury during riots on January 9 this year near the Holy Cross Primary School and that the use of nine baton rounds was fully justified. Eight people were hit by baton rounds and 14 officers injured during the incident. 
“Although the rioting arose spontaneously, as it continued there was evidence of the crowd being directed by men with walkie talkies and whistles. The number and variety of weapons used against the police indicate that certain factions w ithin both sides of the community were organised and had planned for such an outbreak of public disorder.“ Mrs O’Loan observed. 
In Portadown, the report records similar verdicts on the firing of baton rounds during rioting on the Corcrain Estate on both June 26 and on the Twelfth night. 
However it goes much further when considering the events of May 26 last year in the town when a riot developed on the Garvahy Road following a parade by members of the Junior Orange Lodge. Five people were hit by batons and 57 officers were injured during the disturbance. 
“The police had experienced an extremely violent and sustained attack from rioters using potentially lethal weapons. The scale of the disorder was such that earlier and greater use of baton rounds may have been justified,” said Mrs O’Loan. 
In the Lurgan incident, details of which were reported last year, Police Ombudsman staff found that the firing of a baton round during unrest at the Kilwilkie estate in April was fully justified. 
Full report is available in the Publications section of Police Ombudsman Website: 
Mrs O’Loan will be available for interview this evening Monday 27 May 2002. 
Police Ombudsman Information Office 
Telephone 028 90 828604 
Mobile: 07799 346673 
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