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Police defend lack of arrests at Belfast riots

I refer to your leader column of June 23. My officers greatly appreciate your recognition of their role and that in such difficult circumstances their priority is the protection of all lives and bringing and maintaining peace in our communities.

You call for a debate on tactics used to police disorder. Such debate is always welcomed by the Police Service. We have, in the past, embraced opportunities to have public discussion on this issue - through forums such as the Policing Board, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and many other platforms.

In particular, your leader addressed the issue of lack of arrests at the time. This is a complex area and it is important to make clear that the police response is governed by law, in particular, the Human Rights Act of 1998.

This ensures that the police response is proportional and reasonable with regard to the risk to life to all those involved - the wider community, those protesting and the police.

We are held to account by the Policing Board, as well as the courts, and there is a long line of European jurisprudence which informs our decision-making.

The Policing Board has access to specialist human rights legal advice to assist them in fulfilling their obligations.

Indeed, the board convened to do just that in a special session on June 23 following the events in east Belfast.

Notwithstanding any legal constraints, on a 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.

I praise those who initiated, facilitated and participated in discussions that brought this intense disorder to an end.

The police priority is, and will always be, the protection of all lives and bringing and maintaining peace in our communities.

Offenders will be brought to justice for their actions and we have a track-record of doing this.

Justice will be seen to be done, but the priority of keeping people safe comes first.

ALISTAIR FINLAY

Assistant Chief Constable

District Policing Command

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