People have a right to support Soldier F, says Arlene Foster after PSNI meeting
DUP leader Arlene Foster has said people have the right to support Soldier F following a meeting with senior PSNI officers.
Mrs Foster's comments come after a delegation of DUP members met with Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin to discuss the PSNI's handling of a loyalist flute band that paraded close to the scene of Bloody Sunday with a Parachute Regiment symbol on their uniforms.
Speaking outside PSNI headquarters in Belfast, the DUP leader said: “It is important that everybody in the community in Northern Ireland has support for the police service because that's fundamental to out society.
“Therefore, it concerns us greatly if there is a perception building that there isn't that confidence in policing.
“We do not believe that their actions were proportionate and that they were balanced.
“This is the territory of freedom of speech versus provocation.
“Soldier F is going to be brought before the courts, he hasn't been found guilty, he hasn't gone through due process, which we believe in very firmly, but people have a right to support Soldier F."
Loyalists across Northern Ireland have been using the Parachute Regiment symbol to show support for Soldier F - the veteran Para facing prosecution for two murders and four attempted murders on Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972.
Members of the flute band from Larne, Co Antrim, had the insignia and the letter "F" displayed on the sleeves of their uniforms as they took part in the loyal order Apprentice Boys parade in Derry on Saturday.
In an effort to prevent a breach of the peace, a large number of police escorted the band as it made its way through the city. Later, a bus carrying the band home to Larne was stopped by officers on the outskirts of the city.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson said: “The anger which has been expressed is two fold, first of all the police in the first instance intervened on the parade when there was no evidence that the band had done anything to break the law, to break any instructions or requirements for the parade, were not acting in a provocative way and yet attention was drawn to the band by being stopped and being surrounded by the police.
“Some people say the more sinister aspect of this was that after the parade was over, although there had been no breach of the peace or laws broken, the police stopped the bus, held it for two hours and had a prison van, social workers and a high police presence in order to get the names of the band members, according to the police today."
Mr Wilson said police have not previously intervened in illegal protests in the centre of Londonderry by dissident republicans.
“One on hand they don’t have to stop republicans to identify them where they have broken the law yet they come in with a large number of police to hold the band and their families for two hours," he added.
“The conclusion people draw from this was this an attempt to provoke a reaction?
“The police say it was an operational decision, which they will be reviewing, but we did not get a satisfactory answer from them because they admitted that of all of the means I indicated they could have used to identify the band members, they decided not to use."
Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin said the meeting was "robust and constructive" and that he explained what police did and why.
"We also listened carefully to all the strong concerns that have been raised about how we carried out our actions.
"As with all our policing operations there will be a full debrief of our actions on Saturday and we will learn any lessons that result from it.
"Today's discussions were helpful and reinforced the importance of dialogue in restoring the good will that has surrounded parades in Derry/Londonderry over many years."
Belfast Telegraph Digital