Belfast Telegraph

Flute band defends wearing Parachute Regiment emblem at Derry Apprentice Boys parade

Band members being escorted by the police in Derry
Band members being escorted by the police in Derry

A band that marched as part of the Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry at the weekend has defended its decision to wear Parachute Regiment symbols on their uniform.

Clyde Valley Flute band, also known as "The Gun Runners", said they were entitled to their expression of support for Soldier F, a member of the regiment who is to stand trial for the murders of two men and the attempted murders of four others in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

The band, from Larne, Co Antrim, was stopped by police in the Waterside area of the city before they approached the Cityside area.

A decision was made to have officers surround the band as they marched, while a bus taking members home after the parade was later stopped by police in Limavady.

Superintendent Gordon McCalmount said it was the PSNI's view that if the band moved into the Cityside area displaying Parachute Regiment emblems it would likely lead to a "breach of the peace".

In a statement on behalf of The Gun Runners, Reavey Solicitors said the uniform was not specifically designed for the Derry parade.

The Gun Runners believe that their expression of support for Soldier F is a legitimately held view which they are entitled to hold. Band statement

"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 band said they will cooperate fully with the police, however they are considering making a complaint to the Police Ombudsman in relation to the conduct of police officers.

Police, however, defended their handling of the parade and said members of the band refused to engage with officers who advised them not to march wearing Parachute Regiment symbols.

Superintendent Gordon McCalmount said: "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].

"[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."

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd, who was the overall commander in charge on Saturday, rejected claims the police operation was "heavy handed".

“I see no grounds for using that description,” he said at a press conference in Belfast.

Our engagement before, during and after the parade were by way of discussion and negotiation and it confounds me how anyone can describe that as heavy handed. It was proportionate, responsible and constructive – to style it otherwise, I don’t share that assessment. Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd

Earlier a Sinn Fein delegation met with the PSNI to discuss the incident.

After the meeting, Sinn Fein MP for Foyle Elisha McCallion said:

“The failure of the Apprentice Boys to adhere to an agreement that there would be no provocative displays on the parade has caused a huge deal of anger in the local community and sets back the positive progress which this city has made over recent years in terms of dealing with contentious parades.

“There was a specific agreement in place that there would be no ‘Soldier F’ or Parachute Regiment symbols given the clear hurt and offence this would cause to the Bloody Sunday families in particular.

“The fact that this agreement was broken in a deliberate attempt to antagonise victims demands rigorous investigation by the PSNI in addition to immediate action from the Apprentice Boys."

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

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.

Police are also investigating an illegal protest staged by dissident republican group Saoradh during the Apprentice Boys event.

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