Belfast Telegraph

Top officer defends east Belfast riot tactics

Large-scale arrests 'could have been counter-productive'

By Patrice Dougan

A TOP police officer has spoken out against the criticisms levelled at the PSNI's handling of the east Belfast riots which broke out last week, saying making arrests during that time would have been "counter-productive".

Clashes between loyalists and republicans were shown on television screens around the world in some of the worst interface violence in the area in almost a decade. Last week police were criticised for their lack of action. Witnesses and politicians slammed officers for sitting inside their armoured vehicles instead of actively trying to make arrests. Justice committee member Lord Morrow said police should be taking rioters "by the scruff of the neck".

"This tactic of containment gives the rioters sustenance to come out again the next day," he said last week.

In a letter published in today's Belfast Telegraph, Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay responds to such criticism and lays out the reasoning behind police tactics. He says making arrests during violent situations is "a complex area" and points to human rights laws and public safety as the main issues to consider when it comes to policing such clashes.

He said he did not think a forceful response would have helped dissipate the violence. "Notwithstanding any legal constraints, on a very practical level, it is my professional opinion that the force that would have been required in order to achieve an arrest-driven approach would have been seriously counter-productive to creating any atmosphere to facilitate the dialogue and consensus that we all sought in order to bring the disorder to an end," he writes.

Background

Three people were shot amid two nights of sectarian battles between loyalists and republicans on the streets of east Belfast last week. The police blamed the UVF for orchestrating violence which resulted in the force being caught in the middle, pelted with petrol bombs and other missiles in the lower Newtownards Road area.

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