Police 'deeply regret' any child hit with CS spray during Ormeau Orange Order parade violence
Two officers injured, one arrest and First Minister Arlene Foster steps in over outrage at PSNI approach
Police have said they "deeply regret" any child or young person who was affected by CS spray used to help protect officers under attack during disorder at an Orange Order parade.
Two PSNI officers were injured after disturbances broke out on Belfast's Ormeau Road at a band parade on Tuesday evening.
A senior officer said the matter could have been avoided had bandsmen "followed police directions".
Police have charged a 26-year-old man with two counts of assault on police and disorderly behaviour.
Community representatives claimed children as young as five were affected by the use of CS spray.
The mother of a 12-year-old member of the parade contacted the BBC's Talkback programme on Wednesday lunchtime.
She claimed her son was sprayed directly in the face by an officer and was taken to hospital for treatment. She said he was to attend an appointment to have his eyesight checked.
"There was no justification for this," she said.
"There was never a car damaged and if there was is that justification for spraying a 12-year-old directly in the face?"
Following a day of numerous police media interviews on the matter, the PSNI issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon outlining their view of events.
Chief Superintendent Chris Noble said: “After a busy day of successful and peaceful events across Belfast, unfortunately an incident towards the end of the day, which could have been avoided had some bandsmen followed police directions, has become the news headline.
“Following this incident a 26-year-old man has been arrested and charged with disorderly behaviour and two counts of assault on police so we are limited with the amount of detail we can discuss.
“Our investigation into this incident is ongoing and following standard procedure, the Police Ombudsman has also been informed regarding the use of CS incapacitant spray and we will co-operate fully with their enquiries.
“What we can say is that two police officers, one on a motorcycle, were in attendance at a band parade in the Ormeau Road area of south Belfast on Tuesday, March 29.
“Just after 5.10pm, police spoke with parade organisers about some band members who were walking in amongst parked cars and traffic. A police officer then asked the band members to step back but they simply disregarded his requests.
"At that point one of the officers tried to move bandsmen away from brushing against parked cars when he came under attack by a section of the band. The other officer got off his motorcycle to assist his colleague when he was also attacked and the police motorbike damaged.
“Due to the number of people attacking the officers, they defended themselves with their batons. CS incapacitant spray was directed only on the people attacking them and the incident was brought under control. The two officers received minor injuries.
“Shortly after, a 26-year-old man was arrested. He has since been charged with disorderly behaviour and two counts of assault on police."
The police officer continued: "The use of CS incapacitant spray is tightly scrutinised within the PSNI and officers use their judgement when it comes to a graduated response to any threat that they may come under. As is standard procedure, the Police Ombudsman has been informed in regard to the use of CS incapacitant spray. We welcome the Ombudsman’s investigation and we will co-operate fully with their enquiries.
"Any subsequent contact any children or young people had with CS spray particles is deeply regretted.
“Senior colleagues were in communication with community representatives and politicians last night following the incident and I would be happy to meet with any band members, organisers or anyone in the local community who have concerns about this incident in the days ahead.”
CHILDREN WITH 'SWOLLEN EYES AND LIPS'
Noel Liggett, District Master of Ballynafeigh District and the County Secretary for Belfast Junior County Lodge said the spray caused children to have swollen eyes and lips.
"Around 20 children were on parade with us yesterday, the average age would be six, seven, eight and nine," he told the BBC.
"I was quite shocked to see many young children in a state of shock.
"Five of them had suffered the effect of CS gas and a number of young children in the band had also suffered the effects of the gas."
He said that the incident was down to "poor policing on the ground and a lack of communication".
"During the incident PSNI officers deployed CS spray into the parade, many of whom were young boys and girls aged between five and 11, who were affected by the spray," he added.
He said it was "completely false" that cars had been damaged, as police had claimed, and that the CS spray was used "indiscriminately".
The incident sparked widespread anger and First Minister Arlene Foster has spoken to Chief Constable George Hamilton about it.
COMPARISONS DRAWN OVER HOLYLANDS POLICING
Questions have also been raised over the PSNI's approach to the parade in comparison to the St Patrick's violence in the nearby Holylands area.
Spoke with chief con this evening about events on Ormeau Road. Meeting with senior police to follow with Chris Stalford @CDMStalfordDUP— Arlene Foster (@DUPleader) March 29, 2016
In the wake of the incident, images have appeared on social media of one of the police officers involved. Police said they were aware of the posts.
The Police Ombudsman confirmed that the spray was used during disorder on the Ormeau Road at about 5.15pm.
One female adult attended Dundonald Hospital and was treated for the effects of CS spray. She was later discharged.
The Belfast Health Trust said it there were no admission to its wards for the effects of CS spray, that it was aware of.
And the Ambulance Service said it did not attend the incident.
Superintendent Darrin Jones, speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Ulster, said band members were "brushing up against cars" and officers were trying to "cajole" them away from the vehicles.
Later police said they "believed" cars had been damaged.
Darrin Jones said the incident concerned adult members of the band.
"This went from flash to bang very quickly and was over almost as soon as it began," he said.
He added: "This involved Ballynafeigh Junior Orange Order parade with two neighbourhood police officers, one on the side and one in front on a motorcycle.
"The band in question is the South Belfast Young Conquerors - which is a massive band and has numerous numbers in its ranks.
"As they were coming up the road they were coming into contact with parked cars.
"One officer was trying to resolve the situation by nudging band members away from the cars at some stage a couple of members attacked that officer and he drew his baton to protect himself.
"The officer in front on the motorcycle saw what was happening and got off his motorcycle to assist and was set upon by members of the band.
"Because of the numbers and because they were isolated, one officer felt it proportionate and reasonable to draw his CS spray and use it on those attacking him."
The senior officer said the use of force and particularly the use of CS spray was tightly scrutinised.
INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED BY POLICE OMBUDSMAN
He said a referral has been made to the Police Ombudsman and urged witnesses to contact investigators, or the PSNI.
PUP community worker Ian Shanks visited the homes of some of those affected.
He said: "I've been in houses where they were screaming in pain. The kids are from five years old. They are terrified.
"Some of them are in hospital. Everyone wants answers - this won't be left until police are held to account. This went way out of proportion."
Belfast DUP councillor Christopher Stalford said there was a stark contrast to the police actions on Tuesday night compared to the approach to violence in the Holylands area during the St Patrick's Day celebrations.
"I think many people would have liked a more robust approach taken in the Holylands," he said.
He continued: "I have contacted senior PSNI officers regarding the incident on Ormeau Road. Meeting in the days ahead I hope. Serious questions need answered."
The South Belfast Young Conquerors band issued a statement on Facebook criticising the police. "Unfortunately, our Easter Tuesday was marred by the incompetence of our police force," they said.
"Our band was subjected to the force of a police officer trying to protect parked cars. What happened after this is a matter for us to pursue with the legal side, but spraying our kids with mace spray unjustified is not on."
DUP MLA Emma Pengelly said: "All policing must be appropriate and proportionate. The Police Ombudsman has been notified and there must be a full examination of what took place.
"Anyone who was present should come forward and give information to the Police Ombudsman."
SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said: "I have spoken to senior PSNI officers after being contacted about an incident on the Ormeau Road this evening relating to a marching band from Carrickfergus.
"Police will be reviewing CCTV from various sources to corroborate officer report and I understand that they have given a full report to the Police Ombudsman.
"There has been substantial amount of comment about the incident on social media, including by political representatives.
"Unless people were actually witness to the events they should be very circumspect about their comments. The wires of policing and politics should not cross and it is inappropriate for representatives to use this incident to escalate tensions before the full facts are known.
"Ormeau is an exceptionally diverse and well integrated area and it is vital that any tensions are reduced ahead of the marching season."