Belfast Telegraph

Stressed and exhausted... the reality for officers who hold the line against thugs

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

Front line police officers have told of being "exhausted" and "sick and tired" after several months of sustained violence on the streets of Northern Ireland.

Since July of last year more than 500 officers have been injured as a result of serious public disorder surrounding parades and flag protests.

Fifty-six were hurt on Friday evening when rioting erupted in the city centre of Belfast.

Five of those injured were hospitalised, including one officer who was kept in for observation overnight after being concussed by a missile on Royal Avenue.

The majority of those officers who were hurt policing the republican parade and loyalist protest were back on duty the following day, many working from 5am at Apprentice Boys of Derry marches.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott (below) praised the resilience and professionalism of his officers tasked with the daunting job of facing down civil unrest.

But many admitted to the Belfast Telegraph they were struggling mentally and physically as a result of the demands of the past year.

Yesterday, a senior detective said he feared police officers or members of the public could be killed if the violence continues.

Amid the chaos on Royal Avenue on Friday evening, a police officer told this newspaper he "just wanted to go home" – a sentiment echoed by many of his colleagues.

Yesterday, another officer told how he was back in work early on Saturday having been caught up in the same incident.

"Personally, I'm exhausted," he said.

"I was out throughout the flag protests, night after night, as were many of my colleagues.

"Then we had G8 to cover, which again meant long hours.

"The past few weeks have piled yet more pressure on. Friday was the worst I've been involved in. I'm not ashamed to admit I was nervous, it was brutal, but we have a job to do."

Many officers took short breaks as chaos ensued around them on Friday in the city centre.

Slumped against buildings with police Land Rovers providing relative safety from the rampaging mob, many openly expressed their frustration.

"We have had this for months now," said one. "What will this achieve? I'm sick and tired of this."

Another said: "At my age I always thought I'd be behind a desk at this stage, not dealing with this."

A young female officer added: "People say 'think of the overtime'. Would you want to stand over there?"

Detective Superintendent Sean Wright, who is heading up Operation Titan, which is investigating the recent spate of violence, said the rioting on Friday evening was "some of the worst and most violent disorder we have seen in a very long time".

"There certainly was a violent encounter during which we saw pieces of scaffolding, bricks, blocks, steel guttering thrown at police," he said.

"Anybody who throws that type of material at police or other members of the public run the risk of killing somebody. That is also the stark reality of that disorder.

"Police have been dealing with this since December in truth; we had the flag protests, the G8, and now this latest wave of disorder.

"It does put a strain on you but I think the evidence of our ability to deal with it was further highlighted again over the weekend.

"We had officers standing in the front line, professional, disciplined, courageous. Dealing with the disorder in a proportionate and well-disciplined matter."

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said it was clear that a large number of the protesters on Friday evening arrived with "violent intent".

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