Police pledge to investigate Gerry Kelly footage

Sinn Fein MLAs Gerry Kelly and Caral Ni Chuilin remonstrate with police during Friday's Tour of the North parade.
Sinn Fein MLAs Gerry Kelly and Caral Ni Chuilin remonstrate with police during Friday's Tour of the North parade.

Police have appeared not to rule out taking action against Gerry Kelly over the incident which saw him pushed by a Land Rover as he tried to stop an armoured police convoy.

The PSNI issued a carefully-worded statement in which it said “a number of possible offences” had been committed on Friday evening.

Meanwhile, DUP First Minister Peter Robinson has also offered sharp criticism of Sinn Fein’s Mr Kelly.

The police statement, sent yesterday afternoon, said: “The incident involving the police Land Rover on Friday evening has been referred to the Police Ombudsman and the PSNI will fully co-operate with this investigation.

“There are a number of possible offences connected with this and other incidents connected with the parade on Friday evening into which the PSNI will conduct a parallel investigation and, where necessary, a file of evidence on these matters will be sent to the Public Prosecution Service.

“The policing operation on Friday evening was a large-scale operation for an event which passed off largely peacefully.”

The News Letter asked police whether Mr Kelly’s actions specifically were being looked at, and a spokesperson said everything around the incident is going to be investigated.

Pressed again, they referred this reporter once more to the above statement.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said that after recent talks in Cardiff, Mr Kelly and others had been given the phone numbers of a string of top police officers to help keep channels of communication open, adding: “That seems to me to offer an alternative to obstructing a police vehicle.”

And yesterday the most powerful political voice in the Province also criticised the Sinn Fein MLA’s behaviour.

First Minister Mr Robinson said: “Anybody that views the video evidence will consider it to have been reckless and ill-advised. No-one should interfere with the police during the conduct of their duties.”

The footage of the incident shows Mr Kelly to be aggrieved about his treatment because he is an elected representative, mentioning this to a senior officer at the scene.

But Mr Robinson added yesterday: “Being an elected representative and even being a member of the Policing Board does not afford him any role in the operation of police or giving police instructions on the site...

“Anyone who has any misgivings about how police handle the issue, there is a proper process to go through that does not include blocking police in the execution of their duty, that is a bad example to set and I hope it won’t have a bearing on the rest of the parading season.”

Meanwhile, the Police Ombudsman said that “a small number” of witnesses had come forward over the incident, which took place in view of a strip of homes and a crowd of bystanders. Pressed to define a “small number”, they said it was single figures.

They added there was no way to know how long its investigation would last.

Meanwhile, in the Assembly, TUV MLA Jim Allister attempted – as promised – to raise the issue for debate, calling Mr Kelly’s behaviour “loutish”.

However, the “matter of the day” motion was rebuffed for technical reasons by the Speaker, and it did not receive a full debate.

Mr Allister also made a formal complaint yesterday morning to the Assembly’s Commissioner for Standards over Mr Kelly’s behaviour.

The police’s statement and Mr Allister’s comments were put to Sinn Fein, as well as a question of whether the party believes that making an issue of the incident could bolster dissidents.

The party’s response was: “Sinn Fein put this matter in the public domain because the conduct of the PSNI member driving the Land Rover is clearly reckless and dangerous.”

It went on to claim that no senior unionists had mentioned ”the law breaking of the bands” parading on Friday, or attacks on homes in the nationalist Short Strand, claiming that Mr Robinson “has yet to comment” on a bandsman urinating on a church in east Belfast last summer.

“So no nationalist will take anything said by the same politicians about this incident with any seriousness,” it said.

“Sinn Fein will continue to support good policing when we see it and will challenge bad policing when it occurs.”

Former Sinn Fein Belfast mayor Niall O Donnghaile called on Mr Robinson to look “closer to home” at events in east Belfast, instead of speaking out over the events in north Belfast.