Belfast Telegraph

PSNI in 'two-tier policing' row over response to loyalist band with Paras symbol on uniform

Jimmy Spratt
Jimmy Spratt

By Lisa Smyth

PSNI bosses who oversaw the policing of a controversial Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry at the weekend should be ashamed of themselves, a former police officer has claimed.

Retired DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt accused the PSNI of "two-tier policing" and claimed it had done untold damage to the perception of police among the loyalist community.

It comes after images emerged of up to 30 police officers escorting Clyde Valley Flute Band from Larne, whose members had Parachute Regiment emblems on their uniforms, as they made their way through Derry on Saturday.

The band later claimed a bus taking members home after the march was stopped by police in Limavady and three people on board were cautioned.

However, a PSNI source said it is common practice for police to stop vehicles transporting band members and take details if it is believed a Parades Commission determination has been breached.

And SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is now seeking a meeting with the Apprentice Boys to highlight the "deep hurt" that has been caused by band members wearing a Parachute Regiment emblem on their uniforms.

However, Mr Spratt said: "I support the police - I was a police officer during the Troubles and I don't comment publicly but I felt very strongly about this.

"I'm not criticising the officers on the ground who were just doing as they were told and following orders, but I am criticising the senior officers who made the decision to handle the situation in the way that they did.

"I'm sure that police will say they surrounded the band for their own safety but I think it was unnecessary to have that many officers involved.

"The band weren't wearing anything that is illegal, so to hear that they were later stopped by seven or eight police Land Rovers while they were on their way home, with women and children on board, it was unnecessary and I think the commanders got it wrong on this occasion.

"When you look at how the situation in the New Lodge was handled, it is obvious that Sinn Fein were working closely with the police before the decision was made to withdraw from the area.

"There is the perception of a two-tier policing system. This has caused an awful lot of damage."

Mr Eastwood said the band had "caused deep hurt and distress to many victims in Derry".

"The Apprentice Boys need to understand how people feel about this - they need to listen to the voices of those who have been hurt," he said.

Despite this, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said DUP Policing Board members will be demanding answers over actions taken by police during the parade.

TUV leader Jim Allister also said he plans to raise the matter in an upcoming meeting with Chief Constable Simon Byrne.

"The elaborate operation in Limavady to stop and detain the bus and its occupants was in sharp contrast to the blind eye approach so often seen with paramilitary displays at republican parades," he said.

East Antrim DUP politicians Sammy Wilson, David Hilditch and Gordon Lyons said they are also seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Byrne to demand answers over how the event was policed.

A PSNI spokesman declined to comment on the criticisms of the police actions during and after the parade but said officers have started an investigation following the Apprentice Boys Parade.

"A report will be forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service in respect of behaviour and symbols displayed by one band," he continued.

He added that five people were arrested on suspicion of public order offences.

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