Call for tough sentences over flag protest

Published Wednesday, 20 February 2013
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After almost three months of flag protests, the senior police officer heading up Operation Dulcet said they want tough sentences for those involved in “unnotified processions”.

Call for tough sentences over flag protest
The cost of policing the flag protests is more than £15m. (© Pacemaker)

Disorder sparked in December following a Belfast City Council decision to limit the number of days when the Union flag is flown from official buildings.

Since then, roads have been blocked by loyalist demonstrators calling for the flag to be reinstated. Violence has erupted after some of the protests, with cars and vans hijacked and set alight, and PSNI attacked with petrol bombs and other missiles.

More than 100 police officers have been injured since the flag protests began, and the bill for the policing operation has cost £15.6m.

The PSNI maintain there will be consequences for those taking part in the disorder and the demonstrations, as they probe hours of CCTV footage and other evidence as part of Operation Dulcet.

Superintendent Sean Wright told UTV members of the public are supporting their work but some are still being harboured by their family and friends.

"People are sick of this. They want it to stop. We've had people calling from loyalist communities, identifying those people that we put out in the images and I would ask them to continue to do that."

The team has identified almost 200 new suspects, and dozens have already been brought before the courts.

I think the heftier sentences that we can deliver, the bigger the deterrent factor there will be.

Detective Superintendent Wright

Last month it was revealed that Metropolitan Police, who were involved in the investigation into the London 2011 riots, have been drafted in to assist the PSNI.

DS Wright said his team are investigating a series of offences, including unlawful processions on a Saturday, rioting, vehicle hijacking, and attacks on politicians.

"Every single piece of evidence gathering and CCTV police witness statements that we have collected from the 3rd December all comes into this team," he explained.

Much of the violence has been centred on east Belfast, where police previously claimed senior UVF members were involved in the disorder. Officers have come under attack in Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey, where Mr Wright said the involvement of the UDA is one of his major lines of inquiry.

"Members of those organisations have taken part in the disorder. It would not be our understanding that it has been sanctioned by organisations as a whole," he explained.

But while police have come under criticism for their performance during the protests and not putting a stop to the demonstrations at Belfast City Hall each Saturday, he said people should be assured that they are working behind the scenes.

I would not want the public to think that because we are not stopping the parade on a Saturday that there’s nothing happening about it.

Detective Superintendent Wright

"Those people who are taking part in unnotified unlawful processions, who are rioting, hijacking, attacking people or their premises in the streets, they will feel the consequences of their actions," he explained, adding that an extensive team are gathering evidence to move forward with prosecutions.

"I don't want to be rushing into an ill-prepared case and then that be lost when it gets to the doors of the court. That would be more damaging to the public confidence."

Detective Superintendent Wright also called for those who have taken part in processions or violence to come forward, before police approach them.

"I would encourage them to do that. It would be better you and for your communities that you come to us."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
23 Comments
Lee in Belfast wrote (574 days ago):
Fight to stop ur culture being erroded...time in jail...bomb & shoot the security forces..let off............ and they wonder why this place is a mess.
Eamo in Belfast wrote (575 days ago):
PSNI just told it is there job to oversee illrgal parades. Lets see more arreasts and convictions. These are illegal parades
conair in hygoth respect wrote (575 days ago):
Unreal... where the police have evidence they will charge Dissident republicans as almost 50 dissidents in Maghaberry proves..you can not arrest and charge someone just because you or someone else suspect they committed a crime, i wonder where you so vocal when bobby moffat was murdered by loyalists?
bob in East Belfast wrote (575 days ago):
Now the orange order are considering the flag protesters tactic of not declaring a march to and from city hall every Saturday! They see how the police are standing back, blocking roads and facilitating protesters to act illegally. Mervyn Gibson of the orange order has stated that they are considering not filling in parade request forms and simply marching where they please! What a summer we'll have if the police don't start getting very tough with illegal protests and marches. We need massively increased sentences for those convicted, and we need to publicise these harsh sentences to dissuade fellow illegal actions!
S.B. in Belfast wrote (575 days ago):
Too little too late from the PSNI. They should have acted very strongly from the first day against these 'protestors' but now the horse has bolted and the stable door is firmly shut. There is now a growing anarchic Unionist/Loyalist element who refuse to accept legitimate democracy and who now feel they can take to the streets and do what they want irrespective of others or the consequences. The Parades Commission has been totally emasculated and is now a toothless tiger respected by no one especially Nationalists in places like Short Strand whose lives are being made a misery on a weekly basis. No one is surprised by the Orange Order's statement today that they may no longer apply to the Parades Commission for marches; they have seen the weakness of the Parades Commission and the PSNI over the past 11 weeks and have taken their cue from this. Nationalists in places like Ardoyne, Carrick Hill, Rasharkin etc will look on with interest at developments. It could be a very long summer ahead.
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