Police chiefs defend handling of Belfast violence

Police chiefs in Northern Ireland today defended their handling of mob violence that left 11 officers injured.

Police chiefs in Northern Ireland today defended their handling of mob violence that left 11 officers injured.

A crowd of up to 150 people hurled debris from a builder’s skip at security lines as rioting erupted in the New Lodge district of north Belfast last night.

Two of the officers hurt suffered serious wounds – one woman was cut in the face and a male colleague was taken to hospital with abdominal injuries.

Disorder flared when a stolen car collided with a police Land Rover in the area.

As the driver was being arrested missiles began raining down on police.

Police used CS spray and batons to drive back the crowd. Sinn Féin representatives accused the force of mounting a shoddy operation.

Faced with the criticisms the District Police Commander for North Belfast, Gary White, insisted his officers appeared to have used proportionate methods for quelling the trouble.

He said: “The individual use of both CS spray and batons will be examined carefully by the police ombudsman.

“But looking at the situation in the round, I have 11 police officers hurt after facing a crowd of up to 150 people.

“The person we arrested on suspicion of stealing a car was hurt himself during the fracas by a rock being thrown from the crowd.

“I think it seems to be a proportionate use of force.”

Earlier Sinn Féin councillor Caral Ni Chuilin said she had advised residents in the area to lodge complaints with the Police Ombudsman.

“CS spray was used and some of the people were batoned while there was debris thrown at the police Land Rovers,” she said.

“At one stage there was up to 11 police vehicles on the scene and we had to speak to the Northern Ireland Office to try to get a reduction in the police presence.

“I am not questioning the fact that the driver of the stolen car needed to be arrested.

“The difficulty is that he was arrested in front of a crowd of young people and he could have been stopped somewhere else where this would not have been noticed.”

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