Belfast Telegraph

Chief rejects 'canon fodder' claims

Northern Ireland's police chief has refuted claims that rank and file officers were used as canon fodder during violent loyalist protests.

Matt Baggott said baton round gunners had the authority to fire plastic bullets but chose to show restraint during three months of serious rioting.

"I will never accept there is any perception that police officers should or will be used as canon fodder," he told a meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board which holds the PSNI to account. "Any such accusation or perception is wrong."

The chief constable said he felt compelled to speak out after a stinging attack by a policing union boss on the tactics used to quell street disorder by Union flag protesters.

He added: "When colleagues faced that violence with such commendable courage and restraint they had the authorities to deploy AEP (baton rounds).

"In my personal conversations with many colleagues including baton round gunners they have told me they chose not to use those authorities because firstly, they are professional and they saw the need for restraint. I commend them for that because they saw the bigger picture.

"You can be assured that AEP's will never be used for crowd control purposes or to concentrate the minds of potential rioters."

During a speech to the annual Police Federation conference, the organisation's chairman Terry Spence said the early and rapid deployment of baton rounds could have prevented injuries to more than 140 front line police officers.

It was also revealed that PSNI was better equipped than ever to deal with unexpected and widespread disorder. More than £245 million has been invested in protective equipment including new armoured Land Rover-type vehicles and the number of officers given public order training has doubled in the past year.

Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan warned against encouraging police to use baton rounds. "It was that gung-ho mentality which led to the deaths of 17 people from plastic bullets," the West Belfast MLA said.

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