Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Police chief denies bias claims

Matt Baggott has refuted claims that unionists have been treated unfairly by police over the recent flag protests
Matt Baggott has refuted claims that unionists have been treated unfairly by police over the recent flag protests

Northern Ireland's chief constable has stressed the impartiality of the police service after the region's first minister raised concerns about a perception of bias against loyalists.

Matt Baggott defended the actions of his officers in the wake of Peter Robinson's controversial remarks that some Union flag protesters appeared to have been treated differently under the law than some republicans facing criminal investigation.

Mr Baggott insisted: "All of our actions have been taken impartially and within the rule of law."

Last week prominent loyalists Willie Frazer, 53, from Co Armagh, and Jamie Bryson, 23, from Co Down, were remanded in custody charged with public order offences connected to the ongoing flag protests.

On Friday, senior republican Sean Hughes, 51, from Co Armagh, was granted bail after appearing in court charged with offences related to the murder of father-of-three Robert McCartney in 2005.

Mr Robinson, who met with Mr Baggott on Monday night, said unionists felt they were not being treated fairly. He said: "There certainly is a perception out there within the unionist community that when you see several leading republicans getting bail and several leading members of the loyalist community not getting bail that there is a lack of balance in the way these matters are dealt with."

The Union flag demonstrations have been ongoing since early December when Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days the flag flies over City Hall. A number of the earlier protests descended into violence, particularly in east Belfast, with around 140 police officers being injured.

The demonstrations have become more sporadic and less incendiary in recent weeks but the police have warned that the criminal justice operation to bring law breakers to book will continue.

Mr Baggott has stressed that bail decisions rest with the judiciary while decisions to prosecute are taken by the Public Prosecution Service. He said: "Over the past months the PSNI has successfully dealt with an incredibly volatile situation with great patience and professionalism.

"A situation made all the more difficult by the absence of political consensus. All of our actions have been taken impartially and within the rule of law. No one has been seriously injured."

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