Decisions by police to fire plastic baton rounds in a bid to quell a number of riots in Northern Ireland were backed today by police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan.
Officers were not only justified, but on one occasion were restrained in the use of the weapon, a report said today.
More than 110 police officers were hurt, some seriously, in the disturbances in north Belfast as well as Portadown and neighbouring Lurgan, Co Armagh.
Mrs O’Loan’s office was called in to investigate the firing of 36 baton rounds during seven separate riots between April last year and January during which at least 26 people were hit.
In one outbreak of violence near the Holy Cross Primary School, north Belfast last January, the ombudsman’s investigators claimed there was evidence a crowd was directed by men using walkie-talkies and whistles.
Her report to Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid said: ‘‘In all the instances the use of baton rounds were fully justified.
‘‘Indeed, the police frequently acted with considerable restraint. In one instance there are grounds for suggesting that baton rounds should have been introduced even earlier than they were.’’
Campaigners opposed to the use of the baton rounds said they found the report incredible and claimed it reinforced the nationalist view that the Ombudsman’s office was a ‘‘toothless tiger’’.
The United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets said it was clear that with such findings the report lacked any real investigative procedures and was merely perfunctory.
A statement said: ‘‘There is a real danger that this report may be used, or be interpreted by some to justify the ongoing use of plastic bullets. Such attempts or spin must be challenged.’’