Published Date: 29.03.2004
The Police Ombudsman's Office has said that it believes some of the people involved in rioting in north Belfast after a recent Scottish Cup Final game may have been trying to kill the police officers on duty. The comments are contained in a report into the firing of 33 police baton rounds during rioting after the Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Rangers on Saturday May 4 2002.
The Police Ombudsman's Office has been asked to investigate all discharges of police weapons: it has not received complaints from any member of the public in relation to the specific incident.
As a result of the investigation, the Police Ombudsman's Office has said it has found no evidence of police misconduct and said all but one of the 33 baton rounds were fired within current guidelines.
This incident arose when rival factions came together at various interfaces in North Belfast following the match and serious civil disorder happened.
The police were not prepared for the sudden and serious outbreak of disorder and were taken by surprise by the speed of events. Within 15 minutes rival factions were fighting and the police were overwhelmed: officers were involved in hand-to-hand fighting and in real danger of harm. The situation deteriorated, with police vehicles being sprayed with petrol and crowds mounting sustained attacks on the police. There had never been such serious rioting in the area following a football match.
Twenty-seven police officers were injured during the rioting. The Royal Victoria, Belfast City and Mater Hospital Accident and Emergency Departments all confirmed that they had not treated anyone with baton injuries.
Police Ombudsman investigators visited the locations where the riots had taken place and viewed CCTV pictures which captured some of what happened.
Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan said that from viewing the footage and listening to police radio transmissions, it was evident that police were subject to sustained and vicious attack for several hours and that the intention of some rioters was to seriously injure or kill officers.
"There were numerous occasions during the course of the disturbances when petrol bombs and other missiles were thrown at officers, and even though the officers had been given permission to use baton rounds they did not resort to their use. The number of discharges was kept to a minimum and officers' restraint should be commented upon," she said.
The Police Ombudsman report found no evidence of police misconduct surrounding the use of baton guns.
Mrs O'Loan said the available evidence indicates that the use of baton guns in the circumstances was necessary in order to prevent the loss of life or serious injury to members of the public or to police officers. Thirty-two discharges were within current guidelines: one was not.
"That discharge was by a Constable who fired at a man standing on a roof who was about to throw a petrol bomb on police officers below. Taking into account that the roof was flat and that if hit the man was unlikely to fall, the Constable fired.
"The Constable said that he had considered the risks in firing but believed the man was a real and immediate risk to the lives of his officers below and there was no other way of preventing him from throwing the device. In the circumstances, the officer's actions would seem justified," she said.
Following the investigation, the Police Ombudsman's Office has made a number of recommendations to the PSNI about procedures to ensure oral warnings are given prior to the firing of baton rounds.
Since this incident, and following previous recommendations by the Police Ombudsman's Office, concerns surrounding the issuing and accounting of baton guns and ammunition have been addressed by the PSNI.
Since this incident, all football matches are the subject of a higher level of structured planning and preparation.