Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council calls in PSNI after details of firm hired to clear bonfire were leaked

The bonfire at Avoniel
The bonfire at Avoniel
The bonfire at Avoniel
Tyres being removed from the site
DUP MP Gavin Robinson
SDLP councillor Donal Lyons
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The PSNI has received a complaint about the leak of details of contractors hired to clear the Avoniel Leisure Centre bonfire site - but will meet Belfast City Council representatives before taking an investigation forward.

The council backed down from its decision to clear the contentious site yesterday after the names of contractors were spray-painted on two walls near Avoniel.

Police had also advised City Hall that the east Belfast UVF had influence over the bonfire and there was a risk of gun violence if attempts were made to remove it.

A PSNI spokesperson yesterday confirmed a complaint regarding the leak of contractor details had been received.

"In the coming days we will meet with council representatives to determine the precise nature of the complaint and explore what investigative steps may be necessary to progress the matter," they said.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton hit out at the threats.

"I utterly condemn the intimidation of contractors and recognise the impact this will have had on them, their families and indeed on the council, who had sought their services.

"Such intimidation must not be tolerated," he said.

He said police were investigating a separate complaint from the council over aggravated trespassing on the Avoniel grounds.

"We have an evidence gathering operation in place and all reasonable steps are being taken to establish if offences have been committed."

Any evidence gathered will be considered independently by the Public Prosecution Service.

Mr Hamilton said he welcomed the council's decision to establish an all-party working group for more effective bonfire management.

SDLP councillor Donal Lyons called it "appalling" that the details of the contractors had been leaked to the east Belfast UVF.

"It is unacceptable that contractors engaged to deal with a dangerous bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre have become the victims of paramilitary threats and intimidation," he said.

"It is, frankly, appalling that their details were passed to members of the east Belfast UVF in a deliberate attempt to frustrate the council taking control of this situation and restoring order."

He called for a full investigation on how the details were provided "to a criminal gang engaged in the occupation of a public space".

"No paramilitary organisation can be allowed to seize civic property and dictate its use to people in this city. All parties should commit to facing down these thugs."

Mr Lyons later added that he was "deeply frustrated" by the recent developments and was keen to meet the police about the leak, and to hear their assessment of who was behind the bonfire.

This week East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson criticised the involvement of the UVF at Avoniel.

The Belfast Telegraph asked him if it was likely the UVF would feel vindicated for using the threat of violence.

"Well, they may do. I don't think anyone should take comfort where threats have been issued and people haven't been able to carry out a democratic decision, but I'm not sure it was the right democratic decision to make in the first instance," he said.

"I think there was an opportunity when the bonfire no longer posed a threat to life and property, the political will should have been made in the council to reflect there was progress made that was worth encouraging.

"I think that was a missed opportunity from the council and I just hope we don't find ourselves in that situation again."

He denied there had been a lack of leadership from unionism over Avoniel, saying the voluntary removal of tyres and reduction of the bonfire height was the result of positive engagement with organisers.

"That did prove successful, that's why I think it would have been positive if the council had seized on that progress," he said.

"I think there should be a desire on the part of the council not to pick up on these issues days or weeks before the Eleventh Night, but to engage with them positively throughout the year."

Yesterday afternoon, Avoniel Leisure Centre car park was evacuated after police received a report of a suspicious object. The incident was reported just after 4pm.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson was also told by the PSNI that a threat had been made against his life.

He said: "Police came in and advised loyalists they had received information that a bomb had been left on the site by republican elements.

"Police, along with loyalists, acted quickly to clear the area and ensure everyone's safety. They also informed me that republicans have made a threat against my life.

"The PSNI acted swiftly and came in with dogs, and after a search nothing untoward was found.

A PSNI spokesperson said: "Police carried out a search after information was received that suggested a suspicious object may have been left in the area.

"Nothing was found."

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