Published Date: 25.02.2004
A Police Ombudsman report into events during riots in the Belfast's Short Strand area in August 2002 has said that the use of baton rounds by PSNI officers contributed to the safety of the police officers and of residents living in the area.
The report relates to the discharge of 29 baton rounds over two nights on August 20 and 21 2002 during ongoing disturbances in the Albertbridge Road area, close to the interface at Clandeboye Gardens and Cluan Place.
At least nine police officers were injured during the disturbances. Enquires were made at the Royal Victoria, Belfast City and the Mater hospitals, none of which reported receiving any casualties from the nights disturbances.
Letters were sent to the Assembly representatives for the area in an attempt to trace possible witnesses. There was no response and no one came forward with information.
During the early part of the evening of Tuesday, August 20 there was a build up of tension at the interface. As the evening progressed, crowds gathered, including people who were wearing masks, and roads were blocked with barricades. At one stage a crowd of approximately 50 people surrounded a Landrover, began to rock it and tried to open the rear doors. There were reports of blast bombs and petrol bombs being thrown. The fire service came under attack as they tended a house fire. The tension continued to mount as the evening progressed and two baton rounds were fired.
The disturbances continued on the night of Wednesday, August 21. At one stage a crowd of between 300 and 400 were involved in serious public disorder. Petrol bombs, a variety of explosive devices and high-powered catapults were used to fire at the police. Some officers were hit by bottles containing liquid that melted parts of their uniforms and boots.
At one stage a masked man brandished a rifle at police lines. The Ambulance Service began withdrawing their vehicles from the local depot out of fear for their crews and police came under renewed attack. At one stage a senior police officer then received information that the UVF were moving munitions into the area.
Police Ombudsman, Mrs. Nuala O'Loan, said video evidence shows that the majority of the rioters had come prepared and determined to behave in a less than peaceful manner.
“There was evidence of them having missiles, fireworks, blast bombs and even firearms which they had brought with them. Many of them were wearing scarves, masks or had the hoods of their coats pulled over their heads to avoid being recognized or identified.
It is evident that a large number of people were intent on preplanned violence and intelligence supplied to the police during the disturbances on August 21 would tend to support this. It is also evident that local community representatives were present and attempted to calm the situation,” she said.
The Police Ombudsman said police reaction was both controlled and proportionate to the level of violence.
“The Police were subject to a barrage of missiles and can be shown to exercise a high degree of restraint. There is overwhelming evidence to support the police use of batons at this point. All evidence suggests that the baton gunners acted entirely correctly within the relevant guidelines.
The use of baton rounds during the riots was lawful, justified and proportionate. The available evidence supports the conclusion that the discharge of baton rounds in addition to other tactics contributed to the eventual order being restored in the area and contributed to the safety of the police officers involved in the operation and the residents living in the area,” she said.
A summary report of the Police Ombudsman's findings on this and other investigations may be accessed at www.policeombudsman.org; look under Outcomes and then Regulation 20 Reports.ENDS