Belfast Telegraph

Police apology for New Lodge bonfire removal failure - women and children used as shields in violence, residents told to evacuate homes

Police say public safety was motive for withdrawal

Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Police have apologised for failing to facilitate the removal of the New Lodge bonfire.

A senior PSNI officer said public safety was at the forefront of the decision to pull out of the area and women and children were being used as shields.

Residents in the nearby flats have been told to leave their homes. The Housing Executive said it could not guarantee their safety given the proximity of the bonfire to two tower blocks.

Police moved into the north Belfast housing estate on Thursday morning. There was sporadic outbreaks of violence resulting in three officers injured.

One officer collapsed after he was hit by an object from close range.

Around 150 officers were on the scene throughout the day.

Police pulled out of the area at speed at around 3pm under a hail of missiles from cheering youths.

The PSNI said six petrol bombs had been recovered and a 13-year-old youth has been arrested on suspicion of riotous and disorderly behaviour.

Sinn Fein described the situation as "disgraceful".

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said "older heads" and likely dissident republicans were orchestrating youths.

Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

He said crowds cheering an officer's collapse was "reprehensible".

Addressing a press conference, he said the attempted removal was a significant undertaking for police given the geography of the area and there had been a significant amount of planning and resource put into the day's operation.

"Clearly these are dynamic operations and not everything goes according to plan," he said.

The bonfire was built to mark the anniversary of the introduction of the controversial policy of internment without trial in 1971.

Police began their operation at 5am to support its removal. Alan Todd explained two people had climbed to the top of the bonfire and while one came down, another two were able to breach police lines and get on the structure.

"Clearly that is a public safety issue for them," he said.

Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Police deal with disorder at the Newlodge bonfire in north Belfast on August 8th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

"In parallel to that a large crowd gathered in the area with a significant number of women and children in that crowd and at times people were attacking police lines using women and children as shields.

"That poses a difficulty for me as a police commander. I have an objective to support our partners in clearing a bonfire site in support of the local community's wishes.

"But I also have a lawful and legal obligation to minimise any resort to use of force by police and to minimise the risk of so doing to public safety.

"And I regrettably have had to take a decision today that the risks of continuing an operation to remove a bonfire were outweighed by the risks that operation would then pose to the wider community, the women and children and others present.

"That's a matter of regret to me we were not successful in that operation.

"It is nonetheless a responsible, professional policing decision taken within the law and taken with very little room for other decisions to be made.

"I would like to apologise to the local community we have not been successful in achieving that objective."

Mr Todd said officers would continue to carry out policing in the area.

"This is a standalone operation, I do not regard it as a successful outcome. Neither would anyone else," he added.

"At the end of the day it is a responsible decision."

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