Commenting on PSNI actions in relation to the bonfires at Avoniel Leisure Centre and Lismore Street, as well as associated issues, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said:
“As a police service we have been clear in our position that we will always support other agencies to carry out their statutory functions. In recent weeks, this included the removal of bonfire material and the removal of offending graffiti. We were ready to provide support in order to address any community safety issues, and to ensure that there was no breach of the peace.
“In the weeks leading up to the Twelfth, the PSNI maintained close liaison with Belfast City Council on the issue of bonfires, including the one at Avoniel Leisure Centre and also on graffiti that appeared close to the site. The PSNI was ready to assist the Council and had significant resources ready to support the removal of material from the Avoniel Leisure Centre car park, however, the council was unable to secure a contractor to carry out this work. It is important to note that the PSNI does not have any legal powers regarding the removal of bonfire-related material from the site.
“PSNI will routinely work with community representatives to find resolutions to local issues. At Avoniel, and other bonfire sites, officers came into contact with local people present there, including senior loyalists. This does not constitute formal engagement and no meetings took place between police and members of the UVF.
At the Lismore Street site on July 7th, local officers explained to bonfire builders and other members of the community who were present that tyres were going to be removed. While we are aware there was at least one senior loyalist among the crowd, it would be completely inaccurate to describe this as a meeting or engagement. This happened by circumstance, not by design, and I want to make this very clear - we did not meet or negotiate with individuals from loyalist groupings, or involve them in our policing decision making.
“During a police security check of the Avoniel site, following reports of a device being left there, some community members approached police and officers explained they were on site for safety reasons. Policing with the community is at the core of what we do at the PSNI and, therefore, officers come into contact with local people all the time. There has been reference by media today that police were negotiating with senior loyalists regarding the policing operation. This is simply not the case and no meeting took place.
“The PSNI is committed to tackling organised crime gangs and paramilitaries and the East Belfast UVF remains a key focus for investigation. Since January this year, we have had significant success - 18 people arrested and 16 of them charged and brought before the courts as a result of PCTF operations targeting the East Belfast UVF. We have also taken a significant quantity of drugs off the streets to protect our communities and seized a substantial amount of cash, which has resulted from criminal activity. We will continue to arrest members of the East Belfast UVF, and we will continue to put them before the courts.
“In relation to the graffiti, the PSNI also liaised with the property owners and with Belfast City Council in an attempt to support them removing the offending graffiti, which has now be done. The removal of graffiti is the responsibility of the property owner assisted by any other relevant agency.
“A thorough police investigation is now underway to identify those responsible and seek to bring them before the courts.”