Policing of parade justifiable given threat of violence: Police Ombudsman

Published Date: 06.07.2006

A Police Ombudsman investigation has established that the police handling of an Orange Order parade and Nationalist protests on the evening of July 12 2004 at Ardoyne in North Belfast was 'in general justifiable' and was overshadowed by 'intelligence' reports that elements on both sides were planning violence.

Representatives of the Nationalist/Republican community - including Sinn Fein, the SDLP, and a group based in Ardoyne - lodged a number of complaints. These included that police did not plan for and handle the parade impartially, and that the human rights of Nationalist residents in the area had been compromised.

However, while finding that police did not consult with Nationalists/Republicans prior to the parade in the same manner as they did Orangemen/Loyalists, the Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan said that lack of a formal mechanism to allow consultation between police and Republicans was partly to blame.

She added that there was evidence to show that police had attempted to balance the human rights of both parade supporters and protestors, while attempting to minimise the potential for violence.

The annual parade has a long history of trouble focused on the area of the Crumlin Road between its junctions with the Woodvale and Hesketh roads.

Following notification from three Loyal Orange Lodges that they intended to parade and from the Ardoyne Parades Dialogue Group that there would be a protest, the Parades Commission determined that marchers were allowed to parade past the area, but without bands. The Parades Commission determination did not cover the issue of what the supporters should do.

On the evening in question, police erected barriers between the marchers and their supporters and screens between the marchers and protestors. The Orange Lodges paraded along the route, followed after an interval by their supporters. Serious violence then erupted and lasted for several hours.

Police Ombudsman investigators examining what happened, sought witness statements, looked at CCTV and news footage, police radio logs, a significant amount of police documentation from PSNI planning and operational meetings and all intelligence material which had been available to police.

The main findings are as follows:

Finding One: The Police Ombudsman said that having looked at all the documentation from the various meetings held to discuss the matter, there was no overall evidence to indicate that police failed to plan for the event in an impartial way.

However, Mrs O'Loan noted that while police consulted extensively with those who were planning to parade, there was no evidence of a similar approach to consultation with those expected to oppose the parade.

"The political situation and the reluctance of key parties and individuals within the Republican community to speak openly and directly to the police meant there was no frank airing of views. Neither was there anyone with a clear mandate to speak to police on behalf of the community in Ardoyne. The use of intermediaries was far from ideal.

The police were left guessing about the nature of anticipated protests, the possible community tensions and which resolutions might be more acceptable to that community," she said.

Finding Two: The Police Ombudsman upheld a complaint that the erection of screens along the shop fronts at Ardoyne represented an intrusion into the right of people in the area to 'live, work, shop trade and carry on business' under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights but also said the police action was justified.

Mrs O'Loan said not all Human Rights are absolute rights. In some instances, such as under Article Eight, the rights of individuals have to be balanced with those of others, including those of differing and wider communities. She said those were the decisions the police had to make in this case.

"Evidence shows that in their decision-making police were conscious the Ardoyne Parades Dialogue Group had said there would be 500 protestors present.

We have seen intelligence which suggested that while there was a general willingness within both the Nationalist and Loyalist communities to work towards preventing disorder, there were also elements within both communities who were stockpiling weapons.

As the day progressed, there was also intelligence that other parades within the greater Belfast area had or were planning to stop, awaiting the completion of the Ardoyne Parade. There were fears that Loyalist crowd numbers would be considerably swelled, heightening fears of a long-running and violent stand-off. The screens were then put in place shortly before 6:30pm - this is evidenced by both the decision log of the Chief Superintendent North Belfast and a television new report," she said.

Finding Three: The Police Ombudsman rejected a complaint that police had failed to implement the Parade Commission's determination and failed to disperse the illegal assembly of Loyalists:

"Since the determination required that lodges proceed up the road and since this is what happened, the police did not fail to implement the determination.

The determination did not apply to the supporters. We have seen documentation which shows that senior police officers had received legal advice that as long as supporters were not creating a public order problem they had the right to proceed up the road, but separate from and not part of the parade.

The documentation, dated July 9, shows that after considering several other alternatives the police choose this course of action, citing the reason being to 'minimise/remove potential conflict by lodge members in other areas,'" said Mrs O'Loan.

Finding Four: The Police Ombudsman found that the fact that police only used standard crowd control barriers for loyalist band supporters but used military screens for the protestors was not evidence of police bias against the Nationalist community:

"As this was a Loyalist event, the police concluded there was little prospect of an attack on the parade from the 'Protestant side' of the Crumlin Road and so they used barriers

There was, however, a risk to those taking part in the parade, whether perceived or actual, from the protestors. In order to protect the parade and to prevent attacks on both sides, security screens were used at the Ardoyne shop fronts," she said.

Finding Five: The Police Ombudsman rejected an allegation that police policy had been influenced by the NIO Security Minister. Mrs O'Loan confirmed that police had briefed the Minister:

"However, the police logs, which are kept on a minute by minute basis, show no changes as a result of or following the briefing with the Minister," she said.

Finding Six: The Police Ombudsman found there was no misconduct by officers in the fact that police failed to prevent band supporters openly drinking prior to the parade.

"We established police had issued an instruction that minor criminal matters committed by those involved in the parade, supporting it or protesting against it should not result in prosecution. This applied to issues such as drinking by supporters and the blocking of the street by protestors.

It is a statement of fact that police did not prevent parade supporters openly drinking. But I am satisfied that while there may have been minor offences committed by both sides, the police response to them was equal," she said.

Finding Seven: The Police Ombudsman rejected a suggestion that police failed to prosecute those responsible for the flaunting of flags and emblems associated with proscribed loyalist organisations:

"The CCTV coverage does not show anyone waving UDA or other paramilitary flags. A newspaper published a photograph of such flag waving but said the photo had been submitted anonymously. The police did attempt to prosecute in this case but the Director of Public Prosecution decided the prosecution was unsustainable in the absence of evidence as to when and by whom the photograph was taken," said Mrs O'Loan.

Finding Eight: The Police Ombudsman found that the fact police failed to prevent sectarian taunts and abuse of Ardoyne residents by the loyalist crowd was not evidence of misconduct:

"There is evidence that both protestors and the supporters engaged in abusive language to each other. I am satisfied police took the view any attempt to deal with these instances may have made an already tense situation worse."



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