Belfast Telegraph

Top cop explains PSNI approach to bonfires across Northern Ireland after Derry 'hate crime'

A senior PSNI officer has defended the decision not to remove a bonfire in Londonderry which had placards with the names of murdered police and prison officers on it.

The decision comes after two bonfires were taken down in east Belfast earlier this summer.

A controversial bonfire on the Bloomfield Walkway was set alight after Belfast City Council secured a High Court Injunction to have it removed.

The bonfire in Cluan Place in east Belfast was also dismantled after being deemed unsafe.

Wednesday's Bogside bonfire had placards on it with the names of murdered PSNI officers Ronan Kerr and Stephen Carroll and prison officers David Black and Adrian Ismay.

It also featured Union flags, British Army flags, poppy wreaths which had been stolen from the city's cenotaph, and a Donald Trump election sign.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said that the land in Meenan Square in which the Derry bonfire was on was privately owned and this prevented police from removing it.

"The conduct of a bonfire in any particular place in Northern Ireland is a matter for the landowner and it's for the landowner to decide if it is or isn't acceptable on their property and what they will or won't allow people to do in relation to their property," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

"In this case a private individual leased the land, it's a private individual who has it on a long-term lease from a statutory partner and I know there were some representations made in that direction."

Assistant Chief Constable Todd said that police were asked to intervene in the east Belfast bonfires.

"The comparison with Belfast was from a policing perspective, the landowner came to police and said that they wished for police to intervene for reasons of public safety and remove the bonfire material," he said.

"They sought our assistance in doing so and we provided that assistance, had the landowner or any of the statutory partners sought that assistance in this instance then we would have supported them in doing that aswell.

"They didn't make provision to do so, they didn't ask us to support them and that's the difference. This isn't a place where police have primacy and police decide who will or won't have a bonfire and who will or won't intervene."

He defended his decision not to order officers into the Bogside to remove the offensive material from the bonfire.

"They were put on in the very last hours and minutes, leading up until it was lit they weren't on the bonfire," Assistant Chief Constable Todd said.

"You would be asking police officers to clamber up an unsafe structure and put themselves at risk of getting killed or seriously injured.

"I have to balance that with the duty of care I have for my officers against what other steps I might take in the circumstances."

"It sicks in my throat, it gives me a bad feeling, I wish there was a better way of doing it, but those are the practical choices I have to make."

Assistant Chief Constable Todd said that legislative changes may be necessary to tackle the issue of bonfires in Northern Ireland.

"We are engaging behind the scenes on such matters and we are going to have to legislate for this and people right across the statutory framework including landowners are going to have to take responsibility," he said.

"When they do, as we've shown, police will stand shoulder to shoulder with them in dealing with such matters."

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