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Three charged after Seaview disorder

Three people have been charged with disorder after the protest.

Two men and a woman have been charged with public order offences following a loyalist protest at Seaview football ground in north Belfast.

Sunday, 17 February 2013
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A highly anticipated top of the table derby between Cliftonville and Crusaders on the Shore Road was called off on Saturday afternoon after clashes between protestors and police.

The men, aged 48 and 47, and a 21-year-old woman are accused of disorderly behaviour and assault on police.

The 47-year-old is also charged with a provocative act.

They have been bailed to appear before Belfast Magistrates' Court on 13 March.

A small group of protestors carrying Union flags had formed a white line picket outside Seaview ahead of the game. It has been claimed they also wanted to voice their concerns about the behaviour of football fans in the area in the past.

Police say they attempted to move the protestors after 40 minutes to allow fans in the ground when they were attacked with bottles and other missiles.

The PSNI say they had been involved in the planning of the match with both clubs and local residents groups for a number of weeks.

However, despite "intensive efforts by police and football officials to negotiate a peaceful outcome", PSNI say both clubs agreed that the game could not proceed after disorder broke out.

"This is a regrettable outcome for the clubs, the many genuine fans who wanted to watch the match and indeed the wider North Belfast community," a PSNI statement said.

Meanwhile, the DUP has criticised the PSNI's handling of the situation amid claims one of their local councillors was struck by an officer.

When police were pushing people back I was struck by a police baton as I tried to lift a lady, who had fallen, back onto her feet.

DUP Cllr Guy Spence

Guy Spence was at the scene of the protest to try and keep the peace because of "previous difficulties" at matches, the party said in a statement.

North Belfast DUP representatives Nigel Dodds and Nelson McCausland said video evidence showed police acting aggressively towards and striking Mr Spence.

"Others who also tried to help have complained of police heavy handed tactics and needless aggression by TSG police officers," they said in a joint statement.

"We will be following these issues up with police urgently this evening and in the coming days."

Councillor Spence said: "I was present throughout the afternoon on the Shore Road in order to try to ensure that there was no trouble and that things would remain as calm as possible.

"I was also struck by one police officer as I tried to speak to the police inspector," he added.

Responding to the allegations, a PSNI spokesperson said: "If anyone is dissatisfied with the action of a police officer, they should make a complaint to the Police Ombudsman's Office for a full and impartial investigation."

You have to come to the conclusion that whoever organised that white line picket were doing so to bring this issue into sport and I think it’s the wrong place for it to go.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly

North Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said he believed it was a loyalist flag protest held outside the grounds.

"Nobody understands, this is the first time they've had a protest outside Seaview," he told UTV.

Crusaders Football club said considerable engagement had been made with Skegoniel Avenue residents since November to ensure that spectators would get to the game peacefully.

Cliftonville Football Club also expressed disappointment at the outcome and thanked fans for their cooperation.

The Irish Football Association said they were extremely disappointed that the game was postponed for reasons "not associated with the game of football".

"Despite the hard work of the officials and representatives of Crusaders, Cliftonville, the Irish FA and the PSNI, the decision was taken to postpone the game on the grounds of the potential risk to public safety," a statement said.

"The fact that it had to be postponed for reasons not related to football is grossly unfair to the players, fans and officials of both clubs who work so hard and dedicate so much time to our domestic game."

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín added that the protest which forced the cancellation of the match "had nothing to do with football".

"Crusaders and Cliftonville, while rivals on the pitch, have forged many links in recent years and I trust the events of today will not derail those efforts," she said.

"I hope the game will be rescheduled and go ahead without incident at a later date."