Belfast Telegraph

PSNI to have 'evidence gathering operation' in place at Avoniel bonfire

The council has now said it will not act to dismantle the bonfire built in the car park of Avoniel Leisure Centre (Liam McBurney/PA)
The council has now said it will not act to dismantle the bonfire built in the car park of Avoniel Leisure Centre (Liam McBurney/PA)
The contentious bonfire has been built in the grounds of Avoniel Leisure Centre in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)
Bandsmen from the Rising Sons Flute Band outside Avoniel Leisure Centre (Liam McBurney/PA)
PSNI officers at the entrance to Avoniel Leisure Centre in east Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)
PSNI at the scene (Liam McBurney/PA)
Loyalists kept watch at Avoniel Leisure Centre in case police and contractors moved in to demolish a Twelfth of July bonfire under council orders (Liam McBurney/PA)
Crowds at Avoniel Leisure Centre

Police have said they will have an "evidence gathering operation" in place around a contentious bonfire in east Belfast to see if any offences are committed.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton also condemned the intimidation of contractors initially hired to remove the bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre.

On Thursday afternoon, Belfast City Council decided not to move in at the site, after a contractor could not be secured to remove materials from the pyre.

Contractors pulled out of the job on Wednesday, days after threatening graffiti appeared near the site, despite councillors voting to remove the bonfire on three separate occasions.

The council also made a complaint to the PSNI about "aggravated trespassing" at the leisure centre, which is owned by the council.

Police had advised the council there was the possibility of "violent confrontation" orchestrated by the UVF if contractors moved in.

In a statement, ACC Hamilton said: "I utterly condemn the intimidation of contractors and recognise the impact this will have had on them, their families and indeed on the Council who had sought their services. Such intimidation must not be tolerated.

"The complaint from Belfast City Council citing aggravated trespassing at Avoniel Leisure Centre is now being investigated.

"Warnings have been delivered by Belfast City Council to inform people they are trespassing, we have an evidence gathering operation in place and all reasonable steps are being taken to establish if offences have been committed.

"Any evidence gathered will be considered independently by the Public Prosecution Service."

Police also welcomed the council's decision to established an all-party working group to better tackle bonfire-related issues in the future.

Bonfire builders had maintained a 24-hour presence at the gates of the site since the council's strategic policy and resources committee first voted to take action on Monday.

They barricaded the gates in a bid to stop the demolition, with the leisure centre forced to close.

A number of community events have also been staged at the site, with loyalists gathering to show support for the bonfire builders.

Speaking following Thursday's meeting, Alliance councillor Michael Long said it would be "counter-productive" to remove the material on July 11.

"We have got to take on board that there are children, young people and older people in that area," he said.

"It is really disappointing that a democratically taken decision in Belfast City Council cannot be implemented, and that is a worrying development."

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