PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott says UVF behind street violence

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott says UVF behind street violence

CHIEF Constable Matt Baggott said senior UVF figures in east Belfast are individually orchestrating street violence out of Union flag protests.

However, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson has disputed the remarks, saying: “The UVF is not orchestrating the violence.”

The PSNI chief constable said on Monday morning that police intelligence linked individual, senior UVF paramilitaries to orchestrating violence during union flag protests in east Belfast.

Matt Baggott said there was “no excuse whatsoever” for violence.

He said if protests continued in the long term, day-to-day policing would be affected.

This included his officers’ ability to deal with the threat from dissident republicans, he added.

The chief constable was speaking after his officers faced a fourth consecutive night of loyalist violence over a decision to limit the days the union flag flies over Belfast City Hall.

The first of those designated flag days will be Wednesday 9 January, the Duchess of Cambridge’s birthday.

Belfast City Council is to meet for the first time on Monday night since the 3 December vote.

The chief constable confirmed that since the flag protests began, 96 people have been arrested, including a “significant number” of young people.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott saw ”youngsters aged 10 and 11” on the streets during protests

Mr Baggott said he was concerned that children as young as 10 were becoming involved in rioting.

He said many were out on the streets “without parental control” and were at risk of “blighting their own future”.

“At a time when we are working desperately hard with the Tourist Board, investment agencies, foreign investors, to present the right picture of Northern Ireland as a place that’s worthy of investment, many of those young people who may benefit from that will now have convictions,” he said.

On Sunday night, a protest took place near the nationalist Short Strand area of Belfast. Later, as hundreds of protesters went up Castlereagh Street bricks, barriers and bottles were thrown at police.

Mr Baggott told a press conference on Monday: “I am concerned that senior members of the UVF in east Belfast – as individuals – have been increasingly orchestrating some of this violence.

“That is utterly unacceptable and is being done for their own selfish motives. There is no excuse whatsoever for violence, as we’ve said, and we will be investigating that and taking the appropriate action.”

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson is at odds with the Chief Constable’s statement linking the UVF to the trouble.

“The UVF is not orchestrating the violence. The UVF is not orchestrating the street protests,” said Mr Hutchinson.

“Show me one shred of evidence that the UVF is orchestrating these protests.

“They are the people’s protests and the people should be allowed to get on with it.”

A 38-year-old man who was arrested during more widespread trouble on Saturday has been charged with possession of a gun, riotous behaviour and refusing to remove a disguise.

He is due to appear at Belfast Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

He had been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder but police now believe no live rounds were fired at PSNI officers on Saturday.

A 52-year-old man is also due before the same court, charged with disorderly behaviour in connection with the trouble in the city.

A campaign of street protests have taken place since the Belfast City Council vote.

Community and political leaders met on Sunday to discuss how the trouble could be brought to an end which was organised by Reverend Mervyn Gibson.

Reverend Mervyn Gibson organised the meeting.

Car on fire in east Belfast on Sunday night

Car on fire in east Belfast on Sunday night

“People have been injured and a lot of properties have been damaged. We need to get it stopped as quickly as possible,” Mr Gibson said.

“People are putting their minds to this, people are trying their best to see how do we do that.

“People are fearful and that’s what we want to address, get back to some sort of normality here in east Belfast.”

But one of those at the meeting, DUP MLA Robin Newton said a lack of engagement from the protest organisers was making it difficult to see an end to the unrest.

Some 52 officers have been injured since the protests began.


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