Published Date: 22.03.2006
The Police Ombudsman's Office has upheld complaints from members of The Royal Black Preceptory and its Lurgan District No 2 that police failed to protect its members who were on a train which was attacked outside the town and then failed to help them afterwards.
However, it also said that police followed all procedures available to them, including extensive consultation, in preparation for a situation which was going to be contentious and involve a balancing of interests.
The Office did not uphold other complaints, including that police failed to investigate the attack and did not provide the same level of protection as it does to GAA supporters.
The train, which was carrying members of the Preceptory to Bangor on July 13 2004, was attacked at around 10am by a crowd of between 20 and 30 youths throwing missiles including bricks, stones and petrol bombs as it left the town and passed the Kilwilkie Estate
The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, has described the attack as "significant." Seven windows were smashed and the train was extensively splattered with paint. It is believed that a petrol bomb melted rubber between the first two carriages.
The findings which have been made public are the first part of two Police Ombudsman investigations into a series of complaints the Office received from both sides of the community about how police handled events in Lurgan over the Twelfth period in 2004.
For more than nine months after the events, the Police Ombudsman's Office received a series of 46 complaints from members and supporters of the Preceptory, which centred on two allegations: that police failed to protect their members who were on the train and that police failed to secure the train's return journey.
The Police Ombudsman said it was a complex and unavoidably protracted investigation. She said that despite contacting all of those who made complaints, 23 people did not cooperate.
Mrs O'Loan's investigators got access to all relevant police documentation covering the period and spoke to police officers, Preceptory members and supporters, the Parades Commission and representatives within the Nationalist and Republican community in Lurgan.
The main complaint was that police failed to protect Preceptory members who were on the train which was attacked.
The Police Ombudsman said it was her view that given the train had been attacked, she must conclude that the police had failed to protect it and therefore had failed to protect those on board.
However, she said she was satisfied that the senior police officer in Lurgan had made every effort to ensure the safe passage of the train.
She said he became aware almost a month before the event that a train booked by District Number 2 may be subject to an attack. He made notes in his journal about the potential injury to passengers, danger to the train, interference with the track and the possibility of a device on the line.
Mrs O'Loan said records show a series of police meetings with Black Preceptory officials on June 21, 25, 29 and 30 to ensure they were aware of the threat.
Notes from the meeting on June 30 show that the senior police officer talked about the difficulties he faced in attempting to secure the train's safety. It also shows that he spoke to Preceptory officials about what he perceived was the dangers inherent in them taking the train and asked them to consider travelling by bus. This was declined.
"I accept that the Royal Black Preceptory had every right to decline this suggestion and to travel to Bangor how they wished. But I also accept that the police had every right to make the request," said Mrs O'Loan.
After a further meeting with a Preceptory representative on July 1 and a letter on July 7, the senior police officer then began a strategy of liaison with representatives of the Nationalist and Republican community in the Kilwilkie estate.
"I am satisfied that it was right for the Police to consult with community representatives. Police have a duty to secure the support of the local community and to act in co-operation with the whole community where possible," said Mrs O'Loan.
On 9 July more information emerged indicating that there might be an intention to attack the train. It is also recorded that Sinn Fein had stated that they were aware of information about possible petrol bombs but would try to take steps to ensure that the train was not attacked.
Shortly before midnight on July 12, an Assistant Chief Constable contacted the Lurgan station to alert police officers of more information about a possible attack on the train. Earlier that evening two petrol bombs were thrown at a train passing through the area.
Records show that the Royal Black Preceptory was informed of this at 07:13 the next morning . By 07:23, police talked to a community representative in Kilwilkie, who was in discussion with others who said they would do all they could to prevent trouble. He said they felt there would be difficulty if police came into the area.
There was further discussion between police and the Black Preceptory at 09.25 and 9.51. By that stage there had been reports of another petrol bomb having been thrown in the area but there was also extensive liaison with the Nationalist and Republican representatives in the area.
The senior police officer then made the decision to allow the journey to go ahead. The notes he made at the time stated: "I am satisfied as I possibly can be that it is now safe for the train to go."
Police documents show that police did consider the option of securing the railway line on its route out of Lurgan but decided against it:
"I am satisfied that this was a reasonable conclusion. To protect the train the officer may have had to place officers along the line for long periods in what was after all a "difficult location" for them. This may have provoked an attack, which was the very thing he was trying to prevent.
As regards whether the police should either have prevented the train from leaving or delayed it while they attempted to clear the line, the result might have been significant rioting at the Lake Street crossing. The train would then have been unable to proceed."
Mrs O'Loan said she was satisfied that the safety of the trains that day and of their passengers was a primary concern of police:
"Such contentious situations involve trying to deal with all people fairly and balancing interests. Unfortunately the train was attacked but I am convinced that the police had its safety at the centre of their activity ."
The Police Ombudsman Office did uphold, however, a complaint from the Preceptory that following the attack, no one came to help those on board the train:
"The train came to a halt for four minutes and police were in a position to move in. NIR took the view that it was safe to continue the journey and it was felt that the priority was to get the train out of the area as quickly as possible."
The Office said it found no evidence to support a complaint that police had not provided the same level of protection as given to GAA supporters who travel by train.
Nor did it find evidence to support the complaint that police did not investigate the attack:
"Lurgan CID tried to identify those who were responsible for the attack, with a view to making them amenable to prosecution.
We have established that they searched relevant police CCTV, and searched for other material such as video footage from an overhead military helicopter and from NIR but it was not possible to identify the individuals," said Mrs O'Loan.