Outrage as police officer at centre of Gerry Kelly Land Rover row told: accept caution or face being prosecuted
A police officer who faces being reprimanded for his role in an incident during which a Sinn Fein MLA was carried on a PSNI Land Rover has been told he has the full backing of his union if he chooses to defend himself in court.
Gerry Kelly was carried for a short distance clinging to the front of the vehicle when he claimed he tried to speak to officers involved in the arrest of a teenage boy following a contentious Loyal Order parade in north Belfast last June.
Unionists reacted with fury when he escaped prosecution over the incident, instead accepting a caution on Monday for his part in the altercation.
Yesterday it emerged the police officer driving the Land Rover faces similar action for allegedly driving without due care and attention.
Should the officer choose not to accept the reprimand he could face prosecution through the courts.
Terry Spence, chair of the Police Federation which represents almost 7,000 rank-and-file officers in Northern Ireland, said he was angered at the treatment of the officer.
Mr Spence claimed the officer was unaware of the "informed warning" until it was reported in the media yesterday afternoon.
He told the Belfast Telegraph the federation would give the constable its full backing.
"Neither he nor our lawyers know anything about such an informed warning or reprimand as being alluded to in the media," Mr Spence said.
"This federation will defend the officer to the hilt and it really concerns me that this appears to be an attempt at a trade-off. It's completely unacceptable if that is the case because this officer has done nothing wrong.
"If he chooses to go to court, if he's prosecuted and chooses to defend his position, then this federation will stand fully behind him."
A case on the incident was initially passed to the Police Ombudsman's office. It then sent a file to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).
A PPS spokeswoman said: "I can confirm that the test for prosecution is met in the case involving Mr Gerard Kelly MLA and a police officer.
"Having regard to all the circumstances of the case, it was concluded that a diversionary disposal was appropriate."
While a diversionary disposal, or informed warning, is not a conviction, it remains on a person's criminal record for 12 months.
The officer could then also face internal discipline should the Police Ombudsman conclude his conduct was unacceptable.
UUP MLA Tom Elliott, a member of Stormont's justice committee, said the decision to take action against the police officer was "disgraceful".
Mr Elliott said the decision, which came on the same day Old Bailey bomber Marian McGlinchey escaped a jail sentence for her role in the Massereene killings, fuelled unionist perceptions of bias against them. "There is a lot of anger and frustration," he said.
"This federation will defend the officer to the hilt and it really concerns me that this appears to be an attempt at a trade-off. It's completely unacceptable if that is the case because this officer has done nothing wrong."
Terry Spence (right), chair of the Police Federation