Thugs who attacked Orange parade 'left to police themselves'
Questions have been asked over why nationalists in the Short Strand were allowed to "police themselves" in an incident that escalated into an attack on an Orange parade.
On July 12, 2013, Ballymacarrett District No.6 was returning to east Belfast following marches in the city centre.
Members were attacked as they passed St Matthew's Catholic church on the lower Newtownards Road, but there were no officers in the church grounds or Short Strand because the PSNI had taken the decision to let the community police itself.
The parade had come to an unplanned halt after a PSNI Land Rover stopped on the road because of the size of crowds that had gathered to watch.
It was at this point the attack from Short Strand was launched. Victims said bricks, golf balls and containers of urine were "raining" down on them and claimed that police officers stood in front of the church facing bandsmen, brethren and spectators during the attack.
Two women were injured in the 30-minute incident. One required 10 stitches to her leg and the other - a member of the Mourne Young Defenders band - was left with a broken cheekbone and bruised face after being hit by a brick.
The 25-year-old flag-bearer told the Belfast Telegraph of her terror at the time and of how the crowd panicked while trying to protect teenagers coming up behind them.
David Saulters jnr, of LOL 710, who was left covered in paint and urine, said he had been shocked and felt apprehensive about parading again, although he vowed not to be scared off.
In the aftermath the Orange Order compiled a dossier of evidence and submitted seven complaints to the police.
Following an investigation, the Police Ombudsman found the PSNI had failed to protect the parade and confirmed that no officers were deployed at that time either within the grounds of St Matthew's or in the Short Strand area itself.
"Documentation shows police felt that to place officers within what was regarded as sacred ground may have created unwelcome community perceptions," said Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire.
"They based their decision not to have officers in the wider area on the experiences of previous years and on agreements within each of the local communities.
"When trouble broke out, the officers then tried to get into the church grounds, but the gates were locked.
"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."
Mr Maguire also found that the stopping of the police Land Rover, which had the effect of halting the parade, had not been a deliberate tactic.
"My investigators have spoken to senior police officers who acknowledged some of the concerns raised and accepted there are a number of lessons to be learned for the policing of future parades in the area," he said.
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, meanwhile, issued a public apology.
During a Policing Board meeting on Thursday, he said: "Clearly, on this occasion, we were unable to fulfil that responsibility because of a failure in planning and deployments into the Short Strand. For that shortcoming, I am sorry."
Raymond Spiers, of Ballymacarrett District No.6, said it accepted the Chief Constable's apology.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, who was among paraders that day, also welcomed the apology from the Chief Constable, but he queried why it had taken two years.
"It is disappointing that this outcome required a lengthy investigation by the Police Ombudsman following a complaint by No.6 District LOL," Mr Robinson said.
"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."
Mr Robinson added that, in comparison, the same parade in the following year was "very successful", and he expressed hopes it would be repeated this year.
But PUP councillor John Kyle said the incident did "significant damage" to relations between the PSNI and the local loyalist community.
And Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile disputed the claim that the parade was attacked from the grounds of St Matthew's, saying there was no CCTV footage to back this up.
He has also demanded an apology for the residents of Strand Walk and St Matthew's Court, whose homes were attacked and damaged during the same incident.
"We have a number of serious concerns about this report and will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Police Ombudsman to discuss them," he said.
Timeline of events
July 12, 2013 — Parade attacked for 30 minutes.
July 13, 2013 — PSNI issues statement “… very serious disorder in the Lower Newtownards Road area particularly when police officers moved in to protect St Matthew’s chapel.”
July 14, 2013 — Ballymacarrett Orange hall opened for those affected by trouble to share their stories and obtain legal advice from a solicitor.
July 15, 2013 — on BBC Talkback, Gerry Adams stated “... very, very brave people in the Short Strand... who actually police Orange parades”.
July 16, 2013 — During a debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly, DUP MLA for East Belfast Robin Newton stated: “Let us be clear: the Protestant community on the Lower Newtownards Road was attacking no one. It was awaiting the return of the Orangemen and Orangewomen.”
July 19, 2013 — Local politicians and community representatives meet senior PSNI staff. Police admit parade was attacked from the Short Strand
August 1, 2013 — DUP leader Peter Robinson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt meet Chief Constable Matt Baggott. PSNI admits shortcomings
August 8, 2013 — Police release a review of July 12, 2013
September 2013 — Planned seminar to address issues involving Orange, bands, community and PSNI cancelled. It’s confirmed that the PSNI pulled out
July 7, 2014 — Meeting with Police Ombudsman’s staff
November 27, 2014 — Report handed to Ombudsman’s Office
June 25, 2015: Chief Constable George Hamilton issues unequivocal apology to those attacked in east Belfast on July 12, 2013
June 26, 2015 — Police Ombudsman’s Report published by No.6 District