The PSNI has been accused of delivering the worst service in the UK when dealing with hate crime and failing in its duty to protect foreign nationals living in Northern Ireland.
In a scathing attack on the way the police have handled the hate campaign against Romanian residents in south Belfast, Channel Four newsreader Jon Snow last night called on Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay to apologise for failings in the police response to the situation.
ACC Finlay appeared on yesterday’s Channel Four evening news to defend the PSNI but admitted there were delays in police attending reports of racist attacks and he also expressed his remorse that over 100 Romanian families have been forced to flee their homes in terror.
Speaking on the programme, he said: “If there are lessons to be learnt from this, we will learn those lessons of course. As I have said we are deeply sorry that it got to the situation where these residents found themselves out on the streets.
“Yes, of course we are sorry. We have said that but we didn’t commit the crime. People in the community committed the crime and we are pursuing those people with the help of the community.”
He was responding to criticisms levelled by Snow, who said: “What is a discredit to policing is you had five days of attacks and no apparent consistent presence. If this had occurred on mainland Britain there would have been a very much more considerable response.
“It sounds as if Northern Ireland policing is more tolerant of racist attacks than anywhere else in Britain.
“We have a situation here where we have got five days of racist attacks on Romanians and there is no persistent police activity maintained to try and protect these people. It really does seem as if the PSNI has learnt absolutely nothing from the murder of Stephen Lawrence, they know nothing about the Macpherson Rules or any of the recommendations. What is going on in Northern Ireland when it comes to racist attacks?”
ACC Finlay said: “Northern Ireland policing is certainly not more tolerant of racist crime or any other hate crime at all.
“I would refute that we have not learnt any lessons. Are we sorry about this? We are deeply sorry about this. We are deeply troubled about it.”
Meanwhile, Superintendent Chris Noble said patrols had been stepped up, security increased and specialist officers deployed to deal with the sickening racism that has reared its head on his south Belfast patch.
“From our perspective there is no ongoing threat to those premises. We have got a high profile patrol policing presence.
“I have a confidence in terms of the measures we have put in place, that we have visible policing in the area but everyone has a role to play in ensuring that every member of society, especially the most vulnerable are kept safe,” he said.
South Belfast MLA Anna Lo had launched a scathing attack on the PSNI’s actions. But at yesterday’s press conference in the Ozone Leisure Centre, the acting district commander denied allegations police had failed to respond to 999 calls from frightened Romanians.
He continued: “I want to reassure the general public about what we have done and how we have responded. As soon as we had reports of incidents we had emergency response to those scenes and began an investigation. Before this issue even hit the headlines I already had hate crime investigators appointed to deal with the victim issues, to try and identify what had happened and provide a high level quality of care. We have a dedicated neighbourhood community team in the area and patrols were stepped up over the weekend. Obviously our preference would have been to stop these attacks happening but the reality is at times, with a very small number of people who are doing these crimes spontaneously, we can’t always do that.”
The PSNI chief disputed claims that the violence had been orchestrated or facilitated by loyalist paramilitaries. After speaking to sources on the ground he said the “spontaneous” attacks had been carried out by a “number of young males” in the area.
“It wasn’t co-ordinated, it wasn’t orchestrated. That said, the impact on the victims will feel just as significant so, very cold comfort to them. Information is that there was no co-ordination and no authorisation from any other groups. It is a number of individuals who have taken umbrage for whatever reason to people living in their community and contributing to that community,” he continued.
Mr Noble said racism was a societal problem and echoed calls from politicians for the community to give up the thugs involved in intimidation.
“I think there is something at the very centre of this that reflects on Northern Ireland society itself and I think we have to address a societal issued that involved police, a whole raft of public and voluntary agencies as well. Police are not the only response to this albeit we do have a key role to play.
“We can always do more but I think it has got to come from the perspective of all the agencies pulling together to address this which is around prevention, reassurance, enforcement where necessary and it is also bringing in the community themselves.
“Let’s be honest, there are people out there who know who carried out these attacks, who attacked the protest. As yet very few of those individuals have come forward to give information.”