Protesters who took over a former bank building in the heart of Belfast have vacated it after 10 months of occupation.
Those involved in the Occupy Belfast movement — a group protesting against economic and social inequality — left the old Bank of Ireland on Thursday after police entered the premises following a report that a radio flung from the building at around noon narrowly missed a woman and young child on the pavement below.
However the protesters later issued a statement claiming the occupation was not over and they would return, though they apologised for the radio incident.
A shop worker who witnessed it said it was fortunate no-one was killed or seriously injured.
Christopher Quinn said: “It looked like the radio just missed the woman and the child, and there were other people who could have been hit.
“They’d a lucky escape because they could have been killed.” Five police vehicles responded to the report and around a dozen officers entered the former bank and spent several hours talking to those inside.
Just before 4pm, seven protesters left the building after Northern Ireland Electricity cut the power supply. As police began ushering the protesters out, one man said although he would not be back “everyone still had keys” to the building.
“They were asking people to go and they said it was up to people if they wanted to go back,” he said.
“I don’t know what other people are doing, but I’m not going back. Everyone has keys and stuff.
“They interviewed anyone who was in there.”
Speaking from the scene, PSNI Sergeant Bryan Caskey said they had initially been called out following reports of an “incident involving a radio which was allegedly thrown from the building”.
He said the team were carrying out “further investigations” and were “trying to arrest the perpetrator”.
Up to 20 people are said to regularly frequent the premises, using keys to access a side door. A number of them are believed to be homeless and had been living there.
One man in his 20s, who asked not to be named, said he had been part of the group for three months and believed there were 20 people still involved in the protest.
Occupy Belfast later released the following statement: “Earlier today one of the occupants of The People’s Bank threw a radio from a second-storey window almost hitting a woman with her child.
“The man who did this has serious mental health problems and was living here as he felt he had nowhere else to go.
“The man has now left the bank. We hope he receives the help he needs.
“This was a completely unacceptable incident that has shocked all those living in and involved with The People’s Bank.
“Contrary to some media reports though, the occupation is not over.
“Occupy Belfast started almost exactly one year ago and this is certainly a low point, but it is not the end.
“We unreservedly apologise to the woman and child involved.
“This incident should not have happened and we will work|hard make sure it never happens again.”
Around 20 people had kept a constant presence at the former Bank of Ireland building on Belfast’s Royal Avenue since January 15. Those taking part align themselves to the Occupy movement, a group of anti-capitalist protesters who have taken over buildings in other cities across the world including London and New York. The Belfast protest at the vacant bank was named Take Back the City by those involved.
I screamed as stereo crashed down beside us
By Aisling Scally
A woman has spoken of her horror after her one-year-old grandson narrowly escaped injury when a large missile was hurled from inside the Occupy Belfast building.
Margaret Reeves (50) was left badly shaken after a stereo thrown from a window smashed to the ground beside her 18-month-old grandson Fionn’s buggy at lunchtime yesterday.
The incident sparked a major police raid on the derelict bank which was taken over by the Occupy Belfast movement earlier this year. Ms Reeves told the Belfast Telegraph how she was walking along Royal Avenue with young Fionn when the terrifying incident unfolded.
“I could hear a man shouting from the building as I was walking down the road,” she said. “Then somebody opened a window and threw a big wooden and metal record player or stereo out. It just missed us.”
Ms Reeves said the stereo crashed to the ground “with a powerful crash”, waking the toddler in his pushchair.
“I just screamed,” she added. “I just kept thinking of what could have happened. People in the nearby Mace came rushing out to help me.”
The grandmother had come in to the city centre to collect her grandson from her daughter-in-law and bring him out for the day.
Fionn's mother Marie Reeves, said she was shocked by the incident and dreaded to think what could have happened. “I just couldn't believe it when I got the phone call. I just keep thinking what might have happened,” she said. The tot’s grandmother Margaret said she respected everyone’s right to peaceful protest, “but it doesn't give people the right to take the law into their own hands”.
“Somebody throwing something from a window has to know the consequences. It's malicious and criminal. We escaped, but the next person might not.”
A spokesman for the PSNI said officers were investigating.