‘Astonishment’ after Gerry Kelly gets off with warning over police Land Rover incident

Sinn Fein MLAs Gerry Kelly and Caral Ni Chuilin remonstrate with police during the Tour of the North parade last year.
Sinn Fein MLAs Gerry Kelly and Caral Ni Chuilin remonstrate with police during the Tour of the North parade last year.

Reprimands have been handed down to both Gerry Kelly and a police officer over the chaotic scenes which saw the Sinn Fein MLA confront a convoy of armoured police vans.

The incident played out last summer in north Belfast’s Carrick Hill area, and was caught on film – with the dramatic footage showing Mr Kelly blocking the path of a Land Rover, before it drove off with him clinging to the bonnet.

The incident led to widespread calls for Mr Kelly to face prosecution for obstructing the officers.

Now it can be revealed that both he and a police officer at the scene have been dealt with in the same way – with what is known as an “informed warning”, amounting to less than a caution.

This last night sparked protests from unionists, amid accusations of “soft” justice for Mr Kelly.

Mr Kelly said yesterday: “Today I was given an informed warning relating to my actions in standing with the community in Carrick Hill during an Orange parade last summer.

“I believed at the time I did the right thing.

“I was part of calming a very difficult situation. I have always believed that this is a matter which should not be brought before the courts.”

The warnings for both him and the police officer were decided upon by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

Last night it issued the following statement: “A PPS spokesperson confirmed that the test for prosecution is met in the case involving Mr Gerard Kelly MLA and a police officer.

“Having regard to all the circumstances it was concluded that a diversionary disposal was appropriate.”

This “diversionary disposal” refers to the warning, which is, in essence, formal reprimand handed down by the police.

It is not a conviction, but it does remain on an individual’s criminal record for 12 months.

A caution, which is a similar thing, remains on the books for five years (or for 30 months in the case of a young person).

Any individual being issued with an informed warning must agree to accept it.

Should they fail to do so, prosecution would follow.

In accepting it, they accept they did break the law.

Mr Kelly was reported to the PPS for impeding police, contrary to the 66(1) of the Police (Northern Ireland Act) 1988.

In the case of the unnamed officer, they were reported for driving without due care and attention, contrary to the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.

As of last night, it was not known if the officer in question had accepted his informed warning.

North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds expressed “astonishment” at Gerry Kelly’s account of events, and at the reprimand he has been given.

He said: “Far from calming the situation as he has spuriously claimed, Kelly’s action resulted directly in a mob attack upon the PSNI vehicle as republican protestors surrounded it and attacked it while police officers were inside.

“The soft handling of this case by the justice system stands in stark contrast to other cases over the past year with custodial sentences given to bandsmen for playing a flute and to others who have obstructed the police in the operation of their duties.”

At the time of the extraordinary incident, Mr Kelly was intervening over the arrest of a youth in the deeply republican area bordering the lower Shankill on June 21, after the Tour of the North band parade.

He attempted to stop vans in a police convoy as they drove away, and when the first couple passed by him, he stood directly in the road blocking the Land Rover’s path.

The vehicle then accelerated as he clung to the front, and drove down the road with an angry crowd in pursuit.

Mr Dodds added yesterday: “It is all the more astonishing that the police officer driving the vehicle, which was already moving when Kelly obstructed it, has himself received the same reprimand of an informed warning. This defies logic.”

Caral ni Chuilin, a fellow North Belfast MLA and also an ex-IRA convict, was also at the scene and claimed to have been injured as the events unfolded.

Jim Allister, TUV leader and its sole MLA, said: “While flag protestors are pursued by a special Public Order Enquiry Team and subjected to charges under the Serious Crime Act, the authorities pander to Kelly with a meaningless “informed warning”, something which amounts to nothing.

“This will do nothing to restore loyalist faith in policing, but, rather, it will perpetuate the present disconnect.”

High-profile loyalist figure Jamie Bryson also weighed in last night, saying: “A caution (sic) is usually reserved for one who has a very limited or non-existent criminal record,” adding that “the small matter of bombing the Old Bailey” should have been taken into consideration.