Belfast Telegraph

PSNI chief U-turns on paramilitary child threat and expresses regret over Derry parade policing

Chief Constable Simon Byrne
Chief Constable Simon Byrne
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne has told the Policing Board he is not using children as a weapon in the fight against paramilitary crime.

He also expressed regret over a policing operation of a Londonderry parade which saw a flute band - which supported Soldier F during the parade - stopped as its coach made its way back to Derry.

The police chief also said he is not threatening parents with taking their children during an appearance in front of the Policing Board on Thursday.

He faced a backlash over comments suggesting parents who used guns could have their children taken into state care.

"I recognise that in some cases that has hit a raw nerve," he told the Policing Board.

"What I was trying to describe was my commitment to increase the tempo and pace of the fight against paramilitary crime in communities right across the country.

"I think there is an opportunity to use all of our powers both in investigative sense and a disruptive sense to tackle the evil scourge of paramilitary crime."

He added: "My enthusiasm to talk in sound bites has caused a distraction. I want to place on record my commitment to recognise the importance of safeguarding and protecting children.

"What I was not trying to describe was a blanket policy. I was not trying to describe something that is applied retrospectively. I was certainly not trying to use children as a weapon or a pawn against tackling paramilitary crime."

When asked by Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly to withdraw the comments, he said: "I am quite happy to withdraw the interpretation that children are pawns if that is what's been heard. That is not my intention."

The police chief said that in some cases police will use powers if a child's safety and wellbeing is under threat.

"I was trying to remind officers that there are powers they can appropriately use," he said.

"I certainly wasn't trying to make the impression that this was a lever to bring compliance."

Several board members raised concerns about the policing operation surrounding the Clyde Valley Flute Band which wore symbols relating to Soldier F during a Derry parade last month. Police stopped the band's coach for several hours after the parade.

Mr Byrne said the policing operation was "regrettable knowing what we now know".

DUP MLA member Joanne Bunting raised concerns among the loyalist community of a perception of two tier policing and asked what was being done after guns were fired at three recent republican funerals.

She said many of her constituents felt "more likely to be arrested wearing an armband supporting your majesty's forces than you are for firing guns in an estate in Belfast".

Mr Byrne said officers were following active lines of enquiry into the incidents but said he did not recognise the notion of two tier policing.

The chief constable also announced plans to move 400 officers into neighbourhood policing by March 2020 with one police officer dedicated to every electoral ward.

Follow how today's hearing unfolded here:

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