The PSNI has faced further criticism after full details emerged showing how policing decisions left a Twelfth parade vulnerable to attack by a republican mob.
The acceptance by PSNI chiefs that nationalists could be trusted to “self police” a notorious east Belfast interface during the 2013 celebrations led to injury, criminal damage and serious public disorder, a Police Ombudsman’s report revealed.
According to the 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.
With almost all of the police resources concentrated on the lower Newtownards Road side of the interface, what the Order describes as a 30-minute “unprovoked, premeditated and vicious attack” was launched from within the Short Strand.
At a press conference in east Belfast, Raymond Spiers of Ballymacarrett District No6 said “several dozen” people sustained injuries, including broken bones, and that equipment and regalia worth thousands of pounds was destroyed.
In his report released on Friday, ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire concluded that the PSNI had failed to protect the parade participants, but said “no specific misconduct has been identified on the part of any individual officer”.
We find this disturbing that the safety of those on the Newtownards Road was entrusted to self-community policingRaymond Spiers – No 6 District Master
Commenting on the assurances given to the police ahead of the Twelfth, Dr Maguire said: “Overall there is no dispute that the parade did come under attack from the Short Strand. This had not been envisaged on the part of the police as it was their expectation that adherence to community self-policing could be achieved.”
However, Dr Maguire went on to say: “The police too were coming under attack and were trying to deploy resources to the area. Having examined all the evidence I would not agree that police officers stood by and did nothing to protect the marchers.”
On Thursday, chief constable George Hamilton apologised for shortcomings in the operational decisions taken by senior officers on the day of the attack.
He told a meeting of the Policing Board: “My message is quite plain and simple and unequivocal, I am not hiding behind anything – it’s our job to keep people safe, we didn’t do it on that occasion and for that I am sorry.”
The LOL No6 district master told the press conference: “The ombudsman’s report makes it quite clear that there was no police presence in the Short Strand area, stating ‘It was considered counter productive and may have inflamed and heightened tensions to deploy police in the Short Strand area’. We find this disturbing that the safety of those on the Newtownards Road was entrusted to self-community policing.
“We call on our elected representatives to ensure that the PSNI will not again abdicate their role as they did in 2013.”
Mr Spiers added: “We were victims not only of republican aggression, but also the fact that the police did not have police officers in the Short Strand and therefore could neither prevent nor protect the parade.
“Thankfully the truth has finally emerged and an unequivocal apology offered.”
On display at the press conference were banners and band uniforms damaged by paint bombs and urine-filled bottles.
The ombudsman’s report goes on to say that police believed placing officers in the “sacred ground” of St Matthew’s Catholic church could have created “community perceptions,” but adds: “Whilst there is no CCTV coverage of residents from the Short Strand being within the chapel grounds missiles can clearly be seen coming from that area.”
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, who witnessed the attack on the parade in 2013, has welcomed the chief constable’s apology.
He said: “It is disappointing that this outcome required a lengthy investigation by the Police Ombudsman following a complaint by No6 District LOL.
“An apology at the time would have been a great help to relations in the area but I would hope this public recognition can help draw a line under the issue.”
PUP deputy leader Dr John Kyle also attended the press conference.
“The belated apology from the chief constable is to be welcomed. There is still significant work to be done to rebuild trust and confidence between loyalist communities and the PSNI. However, this must remain a priority,” he said.