A police chief today said plans to stop trouble when Belfast football team Linfield and its Protestant supporters went into Derry’s republican Bogside for a high profile match against Derry City last night failed.
Chief Superintendent Richard Russell, head of policing in the city, said: ”The concept was right. Unfortunately, the delivery was not right.”
He revealed that he had launched a debrief inquiry to establish what went wrong.
Teen hooligans stoned buses carrying the Protestant fans away from the match smashing widows in six buses and traumatising many of those inside – a lot of them children.
Ten people suffered shock and one person was slightly injured.
It was the first time in 35 years that Linfield had ventured into the Bogside for what was billed as a friendly.
The match itself – a 1-1 draw – passed off without incident and there was no trouble between the 2,000 Derry City fans and the 300 visitors.
But as the Linfield supporters were bussed away from the Brandywell ground in a convoy, the stone-throwers struck.
Private security guards hired by Derry City and club stewards could not stop them. No one there could see any police officers at the scene, although Mr Russell said there had been “a low-profile presence”.
Because of the problems long associated with police officers entering the Bogside and the trouble that can provoke when tensions are high, much planning had gone into trying to ensure the night passed off without incident.
While the presence was low profile outside the ground, there were “lots of officers further out to deploy if the need arose”, he said.
“Unfortunately it didn’t work because the buses got stoned”.
Mr Russell said the low profile presence near the ground had been agreed with the club and local community.
Unfortunately there had been two minutes of trouble in what had been a five-hour policing operation.
“It is regrettable and it should not have happened,” said Mr Russell.
He added: “I have to bear ultimate responsibility and if people felt traumatised by what happened it is only right that I apologise. I think we have let down these people.”
He said they were conducting the debrief to “look back and see how we could have done things differently”.
A small piece of the puzzle had not worked as intended, he said, and it was up to the two clubs whether Linfield would go back to the Brandywell, he said, but added: “We have learned lessons after last night, and if we get the opportunity there will be changes made.”
Trevor Roulston, chairman of the Linfield supporters club described the way they were treated as “a total disgrace”, and questioned where the PSNI had been when they were needed.
“We were assured that we would be in and out of the Brandywell and that security would be good. There were children and young girls in those buses. I’m not blaming Derry City officials and I’m not blaming Derry City fans.”
The outgoing chairman of Derry City and one of the organisers of the match, Jim Roddy slammed the hooligans responsible for the trouble.
“It was a superb night except for two minutes of lunacy last night. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to those poor people who had to go through the intimidation - how they must have felt as these stones rained down on the buses.”