The father of an east Belfast man jailed for his spontaneous reaction to an attack on a 2013 Twelfth parade has spoken of his mixed emotions on hearing the chief constable’s apology.
Raymond Laverty said his son Reuben, 23, has struggled to rebuild his life after serving a three-month prison term – and losing his job – for throwing stones directed at him from the Short Strand back at his attackers.
According to the Police Ombudsman, the PSNI could only afford the Orange Order members and supporters “limited protection” when the homeward leg of the parade passed the Short Strand flashpoint in July 2013.
Police photographed Reuben, along with a number of others on the loyalist side of the interface, and published the images. Reuben presented himself to the PSNI for questioning and was charged with riotous behaviour.
Despite having a totally clear record and pleading guilty at the first opportunity he was sent to jail.
His father said an early admission from police chiefs – that officers on the ground were not in a position to protect the public from the onslaught – might have been accepted as mitigating circumstances in court.
“Reuben got caught up in the whole situation. He had never been in trouble in his life or inside a police station, and always worked from the day and hour he left school,” Mr Laverty said.
“He couldn’t get employed and has only got re-employed within the last three months thankfully, but this has been a total nightmare.”
Mr Laverty said it was difficult to sit through the court hearing, knowing that the police had failed to protect the parade but had not gone public to put his son’s offence in context.
“We knew the truth and that was the frustrating thing for us. Thankfully this [ombudsman] report has come out, thanks to No 6 District pursuing this, but we can’t move on until the convictions of these young people are quashed.
“The people who perpetrated these acts from the Short Strand – not one arrest. The cameras weren’t even focused on them. The only people who suffered were the lodges and bands and the community who were out to watch a peaceful parade.
“I watched the live feed from the Policing Board meeting [on Thursday] and I thought, ‘why couldn’t he have said that at the time?’ but my feelings were mostly relief ... although anger was in there too.”
Mr Laverty, who is a cross-community worker, added: “I have a son who thought, in his own mind, that he was defending his community against a sustained attack, and now can’t pursue the career he wanted.
“There were a lot of people arrested that day who had never been in trouble in their lives and now have criminal convictions, but if the police had policed it right they wouldn’t have been in the situation.
“I will certainly be talking to my solicitor about where we go from here. It’s just so frustrating.”
The PSNI has confirmed that a total of seven people were detained in connection with the disorder, but are unable to say on which side of the interface each arrest occurred.