The PSNI officer involved in the Land Rover incident with Gerry Kelly last June has been placed in “a very difficult position” by police chiefs, his representative body has said.
Last month, the Sinn Fein MLA was given a formal reprimand after he was filmed attempting to halt the progress of the vehicle at a republican protest in north Belfast.
The video clip showed Mr Kelly being carried several yards while sprawled over the bonnet.
It has now been revealed that the experienced PSNI driver – who is said to have more than 20 years’ service – has been handed the same “informed warning” penalty, angering Police Federation chairman Terry Spence.
Mr Spence said the officer has been “used as a political pawn” and is guilty of no offence.
However, Mr Spence added that the alternative to accepting the penalty was the likelihood of a high-profile court hearing placing an unbearable burden on the officer and his family.
“Had he not accepted this penalty, he would have been prosecuted in the criminal court. The officer believes he is innocent, but he doesn’t want the glare of publicity. He was put in a very difficult position,” he said.
Commenting on Mr Kelly’s formal police warning last month, the federation chairman said: “That was clearly an acceptance of his guilt. What we are saying very clearly is that what happened to this officer is wrong.
“I know many officers have been in contact with us about this and there is a lot of anger out there.”
Mr Spence added: “The Police Federation for Northern Ireland believes the decision to hand down this warning was ill-judged and unjustified. Mr Kelly has accepted the warning which in our view makes the decision of the PPS to mete out the same sanction all the more incomprehensible.
“Put simply, the officer was merely doing his duty, and the PFNI is saddened over the way he has been used as a political pawn in this incident.”
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said it was “bizarre and quite disgraceful” that the person being obstructed has been “handed the same penalty as the person guilty of carrying it out”.
“It is clear to anyone watching video footage of the incident that Kelly placed police officers at risk of serious harm by irresponsibly preventing their vehicle from leaving a scene of public disturbance.
“We must ask whether this penalty would have been handed out had the identity of the person obstructing the officers that evening been different,” he added.