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Apprentice Boys were told Para flags could lead to breach of peace, says police chief as he defends tactics

Superintendent Gordon McCalmount said the Clyde Valley Flute Band 'showed no reason'.

By Eimear McGovern

The PSNI superintendent who oversaw the policing of a controversial Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry at the weekend has said members of a band refused to engage with his officers as they advised them not to march wearing Parachute Regiment symbols.

Superintendent Gordon McCalmount said the PSNI was aware that there was a risk of an incident of this nature taking place as parade season approached and that the police force had approached all stakeholders to make them aware of the difficulties.

"We were quite clear in our view that as [the parade] moved on to the Cityside in terms of supporters, bands, displaying items, Parachute Regiment flags in respect of any parade would likely lead to a breach of the peace in the view of the PSNI."

He said a decision was made to stop the band in the Waterside before they approached any further towards the Cityside area of Derry.

"I was trying to get them to see some reason in terms of the sensitivities of that, [we] really worked hard to bring a resolution to the situation. I'll be quite honest, it started getting a bit dangerous in terms of public safety and indeed officer safety and it was going in a difficult direction.

"It was my view we were moving towards disorder [if the band was removed from the parade]," he said, speaking on Good Morning Ulster.

Superintendent McCalmount said he decided that the band would march surrounded by police officers.

"[The band] were showing no reason, not working with us, not engaging and not being balanced in any way and indeed, the fact that they were displaying the symbol walking through the city that somebody else might respond to them - I had to reduce the risk of them walking through the city centre," he said.

The bus taking members home after the march was later stopped by police in Limavady.

A PSNI source said it is common practice for police to stop vehicles transporting band members and take details if it is believed a Parades Commission determination has been breached.

"We stopped the bus to get the names and addresses and allow the folk to be on their way but the folk on the bus took a very resolute stand not to provide us with their names and addresses. We tried to work through and we negotiated, we tried to get common sense to prevail and they just wouldn't work with us at all," said Superintendent Gordon McCalmount.

There is nothing illegal in showing support - my view is that the geographical context, we're talking hundreds of meters from where Bloody Sunday unfolded. Superintendent McCalmount

"We had made the assessment that because of the views of local residents, any display would likely lead to a breach of the peace and our investigation will carry through on the basis that that is provocative conduct, displaying anything where disorder is likely to happen," he said.

In a statement on behalf of the Clyde Valley Flute Band, also known as "The Gun Runners", Reavey Solicitors said the band wish to correct any false impression about their uniform and it was not specifically designed for the Londonderry parade.

"The Gun Runners believe that their expression of support for Soldier F is a legitimately held view which they are entitled to hold. The officers of the band now invite the police to give real and practical effect to their right to freedom of expression during the course of any investigation," the statement read.

"The Gun Runners believe that their detention by police was unlawful. A PSNI officer confirmed with a solicitor of this office that no statement of compliant relating to the conduct of the band had been received by police at the time of their detention.

"We are of the view that no offence has been committed by the band or any member of it, nor could the police have formed any reasonable suspicion that an offence had been committed."

The statement added that the band will cooperate fully with the police, however the are considering making a complaint to the Police Ombudsman in relation to the conduct of police officers.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said he's seeking a meeting with the Apprentice Boys to highlight the "deep hurt" that has been caused by band members wearing a Parachute Regiment emblem on their uniforms.

Mr Eastwood said the band had "caused deep hurt and distress to many victims in Derry".

"The Apprentice Boys need to understand how people feel about this - they need to listen to the voices of those who have been hurt," he said.

The independent councillor Paul Berry described the operation carried out by the PSNI as 'disgraceful'.

Mr Berry was present at the parade as a member of the Murray Club, one of the eight Parent Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

"The PSNI have an anti-Protestant element now in their ranks and this blatant political policing operation needs to be challenged at the highest political level," he said.

"On a week that the PSNI were chased out of New Lodge with the tail between their legs they decided to show such a political strategy towards this band.

In my personal view there needs to be an immediate meeting with the Chief Constable and the senior officer who made this decision. Councillor Paul Berry

"There needs to be a public apology made to the band.

"My understanding is that there will be a parade organised in Larne in September because this political policing needs to end.

"I commend the Band and brethren for acting in a sensible and peaceful manner and they need full support."

The Belfast Telegraph has approached Clyde Valley Flute Band for comment.

A PSNI spokesperson declined to comment on the criticisms of the police actions during and after the parade but said officers have started an investigation following the Apprentice Boys Parade.

"A report will be forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service in respect of behaviour and symbols displayed by one band," they continued.

They added that five people were arrested on suspicion of public order offences.

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