£15m policing bill for flag protests

The cost of policing the loyalist flag protests now stands at more than £15m, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott has revealed.

Published 07/02/2013 12:00

During a Policing Board meeting on Thursday, Mr Baggott said 200 people have so far been arrested by detectives investigating the disorder.

The youngest person to be detained was 11, while a 69-year-old was the oldest to be questioned about violence that broke out following loyalist flag protests.

A 42-year-old man was the latest to be arrested on Thursday following a search of a house in Newtownards.

A firearm, recording equipment, footage and other items were removed from the house as part of the investigation.

The man was charged with offences including possessing explosives, possession of a firearm and theft. He is due to appear before Bangor Magistrates' Court on Friday.

Demonstrations have been held in towns and cities across Northern Ireland since the Belfast City Council vote in December to reduce the number of days when the Union flag is flown.

While many have involved roads being blocked and what police have described as peaceful protests, unrest has broken out at some - with officers being pelted with bricks, fireworks and petrol bombs.

Mr Baggott revealed that 146 police officers have been injured since the disorder began.

During some of the worst scenes of disorder near the Short Strand area of east Belfast, nationalist homes were also damaged when rival crowds clashed.

The cost of policing the recent protests and disorder has come at a high cost to policing, both in terms of human cost and financial costs.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott

The Chief Constable acknowledged there had been criticism of police performance during the protests. But he said, before any action was taken, the force considered if the protest is legitimate, necessary at that time, and proportionate.

"Serious violence has, in the main, been contained in a few locations thanks to the courage and professionalism of my colleagues," he said.

"I know there are views that we should be taking firmer action, but we have to look at the implications of that."

During the meeting, it was revealed that between 20 and 80 protests had taken place on a number of nights in locations across Northern Ireland. The Chief Constable dispelled any comparisons between the union flag protests and the riots in London during summer 2011.

"The scale of this has been exceptionally challenging - this is incomparable with the London riots," he explained.

"The London riots were mass looting. These were riots that involved deep undercurrents of sectarian tension, grievance and, looking back in history, the potential to cause enormous damage."

We need to have a clear break now so that we enter the marching season and clearer, calmer heads prevail.

ACC Will Kerr

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said the fast approaching marching season, amid the current disorder and heightened tensions, was very worrying.

"The first parade we will be facing this year is on 23 February, which is only a couple of weeks away.

"So I think it's incumbent on everybody - civic leaders, community representatives, politicians and the police - to work incredibly hard to try and get a resolution for this flags issue now, so that the marching season does not take place against this volatility, against this community tension," he said.

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