Police defend ‘proportionate’ handling of Londonderry parade band

Police have defended their handling of a loyalist flute band that paraded close to the scene of Bloody Sunday with a Parachute Regiment symbol on their uniforms.

The actions of officers in their dealings with the Clyde Valley Flute Band in Londonderry on Saturday were “proportionate, responsible and constructive”, Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said.

Loyalists across Northern Ireland have been using the Parachute Regiment symbol to show support for Soldier F – the veteran Para facing prosecution for two murders and four attempted murders on Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972.

Members of the flute band from Larne, Co Antrim, had the insignia and the letter “F” displayed on the sleeves of their uniforms as they took part in the loyal order Apprentice Boys parade in Derry on Saturday.

In an effort to prevent a breach of the peace, a large number of police escorted the band as it made its way through the city. Later, a bus carrying the band home to Larne was stopped by officers on the outskirts of the city.

Officers in armoured vehicles attended and a two-and-a-half-hour stand-off ensued until police finally secured the names and details of some bandsmen. Police have now sent a file to prosecutors to assess whether band members were guilty of provocative conduct.

Mr Todd, who was the overall commander in charge on Saturday, rejected those who have characterised the police operation as “heavy handed”.

“I see no grounds for using that description,” he said at a press conference in Belfast. “Our engagement before, during and after the parade were by way of discussion and negotiation and it confounds me how anyone can describe that as heavy handed. It was proportionate, responsible and constructive – to style it otherwise, I don’t share that assessment.”

Mr Todd said people in Northern Ireland are aware of the sensitivities of displaying certain symbols in Derry city.

“Anybody in Northern Ireland, including those of us who have responsibility for policing it, understand there are places where space, history and symbols are contentious,” he said.

“That was the situation clearly that we found ourselves in on Saturday in Derry/Londonderry. People understand the contentious nature of symbols and history in that area.”

The commander said the vast majority of those who took part in the parade did so within the law, respectfully and with due regard to the sensitivities.

“One band in our view chose not to have a sensitivity towards that context, to the point where we believed that it would have interfered with our legitimate purpose of keeping the peace and keeping people safe,” he said.

Mr Todd added: “Given the context of the place, the symbols and the history I don’t think anybody who has looked at that carefully is going to argue that that had the potential to raise tension and where you get raised tensions you have the potential for disorder.

“We considered that to be an act of provocation under the Public Order Northern Ireland Order in line with provocative conduct intended or likely to lead to a breach of the peace.”

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