The PSNI has been accused in court of “naked sectarian policing” after officers in Coleraine allegedly facilitated the erection of loyalist flags close to the scene of the sectarian murder of Catholic Kevin McDaid.
During a High Court bail application for a man accused of inciting hatred following a confrontation with Orange Order members who were putting up the flags, a defence barrister suggested police may have inflamed tensions by facilitating them.
Barrister Kieran Mallon told the court that facilitating the erection of the flags so close to the murder scene in the Heights area of the town “did not do the credit of the PSNI any good.”
He said: “Police officers were there in riot gear to facilitate the erection of these emblems. Members of the nationalist community in the area found the emblems offensive and all the more because of recent events.”
Mr Mallon added: “In terms of easing tensions, there were very many more persons there, perhaps in uniform, inflaming tensions by their actions or lack of actions.”
However, Crown counsel Conor Maguire said officers were in the area at the time to prevent any breaches of the peace.
Tensions flared in Coleraine last week when the flags were erected close to where Mr McDaid was murdered and his friend Damien Fleming left for dead during a vicious attack by a loyalist mob in the Heights estate in May.
It was alleged in the High Court yesterday that three of the men questioned in connection with the murder and attempted murder were helping to erect the Orange flags and that some of the loyalists began to chant “Kevin McDaid fenian b*****d”.
A relative of Mr McDaid — Peter Neill (41), of Westbourne Crescent in the town — was arrested by police for allegedly shouting “Orange b*****ds, you're not wanted here, we don't want your f***ing flags” at the loyalists. He was remanded in custody and charged with incitement to hatred and behaviour likely to stir up hatred.
Mr Mallon told the court that before his arrest Neill had asked police if it would be illegal to take down the flags. He was allegedly told it would not be, but that it would breach the peace.
Mr Mallon said his client questioned was it not also a breach of the peace to enter a nationalist area to put up flags.
“Mr Neill says this is political policing at its worst. He said it is naked sectarian policing,” said Mr Mallon.
He added: “The police facilitated a large group of loyalists to enter a known nationalist area with a cherry picker to erect these flags, some metres away from a sectarian murder.
“This particular applicant (Neill) comes from a community that does not welcome the emblems or flags of the Orange Order. Policing is all about confidence and impartiality. It leaves a lot to be desired in terms of confidence that police deliberately facilitated a cherry picker to erect flags of the Orange Order in an area housing mainly nationalists.”
The court heard that Neill, who denies the charges against him, was being kept under 23 hour lock up in the punishment unit of Maghaberry Prison to protect him from the loyalists charged with the McDaid murder because he is one of the witnesses against them.
Opposing bail, Crown counsel Conor Maguire said that Neill has a lengthy record and that since his arrest incidents of antisocial behaviour have decreased dramatically. He claimed Neill was the leader of a group of people intent on stirring up trouble.
However, Mr Justice Treacy granted bail on certain conditions, including that Neil is not allowed to reside in Coleraine and must adhere to a strict curfew.
Members of the McDaid and Fleming families moved out of the Heights area temporarily in advance of last night’s Orange parade amid rising tensions.