Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Police turn to MLA for help days after assault complaint

Michael Copeland MLA
Protesters and police clash on Royal Avenue on Friday (August 9)

An east Belfast MLA who says he was attacked by police during a city centre riot has stated that days after the event he was contacted by the PSNI to attend a protests near an interface between Castlereagh Street and the Albertbridge Road.

UUP MLA Michael Copeland has complained to the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman about the incident that occurred on Friday night during rioting near Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre.

He was then called by the PSNI on Monday and asked if he would come to the interface between the Short Strand and Castlereagh Street in east Belfast.

He asserts that he, his wife Sonia and his daughter Sarah were all assaulted by police officers during the disorder which stemmed from a loyalist protest against a republican anti-internment parade that was re-routed, and never reached Royal Avenue.

On Saturday, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said: "It's like a battle between the good and the bad, isn't it?

He also stated that he had "little sympathy" for those who choose to be near a riot.

Michael Copeland said: "My wife and daughter travelled to Royal Avenue by themselves and I met them there.

"I was present there as I have been present at many other similar events.

"I consider myself and my family to have been assaulted. A complaint has been made to the PSNI and to the Police Ombudsman. It is not a step which I took lightly.

"I have been astonished by the remarks from the Chief Constable regarding sympathy given that as recently as Monday I was requested by police to attend a protest at the junction of Castlereagh Street and the Albertbridge Road.

"I did not ask, nor do I seek the Chief Constable's sympathy. I seek only to do my job – which includes holding him and his officers accountable when they stray beyond the law.

"Police officers on the ground acting in difficult and dangerous circumstances within the law will continue to have my full support.

"I have received hundreds if not thousands of messages of support from those of all or no religious background and of all or no political opinion.

"While there has been a great deal of reaction to what has happened to myself and my family, the sad truth is that if I was in my 20s and unemployed and said "fleg" instead of flag no one would really care."

On Friday night in Belfast city centre 56 PSNI officers were injured as were a number of protesters.

Numerous businesses, including city centre pubs, The Sunflower and the Hudson were affected by rioters, with one even tearing guttering from The Sunflower and another threw a slab of masonry into the pub's window.

Orange Order Grand Chaplain Rev. Mervyn Gibson said that similar things had happened to him in the past and that the Chief Constable is simply wrong in what he says.

He said: "The Chief Constable is wrong. His officers depend on people going to protests and trying to calm things down.

"I was on Bloomfield Avenue when the guy was arrested behind the cordon and a brick flew over and hit a police officer's helmet."

He said it flew within inches of his head and that he would not have had the protection of a helmet to stop the brick harming him.

He said that in the last 13 years he had been called upon numerous times by the police to attend protests and help calm inflamed situations.

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