Disciplined PSNI rookies were directed by superiors to intervene at Ormeau Road event, police reveal - Sean Graham Bookmakers memorial row

The PSNI has revealed that two junior officers who carried out a controversial arrest after a Troubles victims commemoration had only intervened on direction of their superior officer - a fact that had not been mentioned during an extended interview by the Chief Constable the day before.

The news comes after the Chief Constable Simon Byrne gave an extended interview to the Stephen Nolan Show yesterday in which he said that the conduct of the officers “did not reflect the values of the Police Service of Northern Ireland”.

The arrest took place on the Ormeau Road after a commemoration event to mark the murder of five people at Sean Graham Bookmakers by the UDA.

Policing Federation Chairman Mark Lindsay told the Nolan Show this morning that the two officers concerned were not local neighbourhood police but were response officers driving by the commemoration on the Ormeau Road on Friday.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne

As it was a group of some 30 people they called in their concerns about a breach in Covid regulations to their Sergeant, who advised them to wait until the event had ended and then to speak to those concerned, he said.

After speaking to those concerned Mr Lindsay said one officer was subjected to alleged verbal abuse. The PSNI said one man was then arrested on suspicion of disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest. He was Mark Sykes, a survivor of the atrocity. He was later released.

Police also confirmed that one police officer suffered a minor face injury during the incident.

The two officers concerned graduated from policing college only last year.

Speaking to the Nolan Show yesterday, Mr Byrne said the actions of his officers did not reflect PSNI values. However at no time did he mention that they had only intervened after being directed to do so by their superior officer.

Simon Byrne said on Monday: “This is a serious incident and what we have in front of us do not reflect the values of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.”

Asked what they did which did not align with PSNI values, he replied: “We obviously saw a man being arrested. There was imagery of how that arrest has taken place and when we have viewed that from body worn video we have come to a judgement that it was justified and proportionate to suspend the officer.”

Mr Byrne said he could not comment further as he did not want to prejudice the Police Ombudsman investigation into the matter.

It was then put to him that it was now “too late for that” because one officer has been suspended and another repositioned and he had issued an apology for their conduct.

Asked if he was not therefore “clearly telling the public that these officers behaved inappropriately” and asked again what they had done, he replied that senior officers had seen police bodycam footage that the public has not seen. Disciplinary action was taken in light of that footage, he said.

Mr Lindsay said today that one of the police officers was Catholic and one of them were Protestant and that it was presumptive of anyone to make judgements about their community background.

He also said that PSNI officers are normally only suspended after an initial response from the Police Ombudsman but that this had not occured on this occasion. The suspended officer was feeling “very hurt” and had been subjected to alleged verbal abuse, he said.

A PSNI spokeswoman has now confirmed that the officers only intervened on direction of their senior officer.

“Whilst on routine patrol, officers from the South Belfast Local Policing Team came across a group of approximately 30 people gathered at the Sean Graham Bookmakers on the Ormeau Road at 2.30pm on Friday 5 February,” she said.

“They were a passing police patrol who on seeing the gathering, sought advice from their Sergeant and were advised to engage with persons present and establish what was happening.

”We have reviewed body worn video footage of the event and are confident that the officers assessment of numbers in attendance was accurate. The footage will also be reviewed in respect of the health protection regulations. 

“It is now for the Office of the Police Ombudsman to determine the exact circumstances of the incident and it would not be appropriate for us to comment further. We will continue to fully co-operate with their investigation.”

UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt told the Nolan Show that it was unfair for all the attention to have been placed on the two officers alone. 

“The whole focus appears to have been on the two officers,” he said.

They deserve the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, he said, and the fact that they have been suspended and one moved into other roles gives the impression that they have been “prejudged”.

He added: “Was it necessary to remove those officers is a valid question?”

Mr Nesbitt also expressed concern for the mental health of the two police officers and asked what steps were being taken to to care for their mental health.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly told the Nolan Show today that as a general principal, she thought police should advise organisers of events in advance that if any offences are committed, they risk being prosecuted at a later date, rather than intervening at the time.

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