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British soldiers involved in house searches in Derry

Specialist army units have been involved in searches in Derry in a move that has been blasted by Sinn Fein
Seamus McKinney

SINN Féin has hit out at the use of British soldiers during house searches by police in Derry yesterday describing the development as "unacceptable".

Police confirmed last night that the British army was used during what they described as a “high risk search".

The use of specialist army units - who were not ATO (army techncial officers) - during a security operation marks a major departure in military involvement in general policing operations in the north.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly condemned the move and called on police to explain its decision to deploy soldiers during the search operation.

“The Good Friday Agreement and the promise of a new dispensation for policing was about making policing accountable to the community and did not include the British army. I want to know at what level in the PSNI was the request made to bring in the presence of the British army.

“The use of British soldiers in house searches is unacceptable and only makes it more difficult for political leaders and others to achieve genuine policing with the community.”

Derry police chief, Tony Callaghan said “military specialists” were called in to deal with the suspected presence of munitions of explosives.

Chief Inspector Callaghan said: “The role of these military personnel is to search for munitions and explosive devices which, if located, will then be dealt with by the army bomb disposal officer.

“The military used are specifically trained in this type of high risk search, thus ensuring that such searches are conducted in as safe a manner as possible.”

A huge number of police accompanied British soldiers who were in plain clothes during yesterday’s searches. British Army jeeps painted white were also deployed at the search of two bungalows at Ederown Park and at Glendale Park.

While police confirmed the use of specialist army units during yesterday’s operation, it is believed they were also used in Lurgan, Co Armagh, following last week’s attempted bomb attack on the PSNI.

The deployment of military units sparked anger among independent members of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

Independent councillor Dermot Quigley called on police to say why homes were not evacuated if there was a risk to the public.

“Or is it the police trying to bring British soldiers back onto our streets by stealth,” he said.

No arrests were made during yesterday’s search although police removed a number of items for further examination.

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