Northern Ireland news

Loyalist anger as Avoniel leisure centre blockage images released by PSNI

The PSNI has issued images of four people it wants to talk to in relation to disruption at Avoniel bonfire in east Belfast last year
Connla Young

Loyalists have reacted angrily after the PSNI published photographs of four men they want to question after an east Belfast leisure centre was blockaded last summer forcing it to close.

There was controversy last July after the gates at Avoneil Leisure Centre were barricaded and locked by a group of men after a loyalist bonfire was built in its carpark.

The facility, which is owned by Belfast City Council, was forced to close and customers were directed elsewhere.

Loyalists later called for supporters to gather in protest after a decision by a council committee to send in contractors, under police escort, to remove the bonfire.

Councillors later decided not to remove the material and "expressed their concern about the involvement of the east Belfast UVF in the unlawful occupation of the Avoniel site".

During the stand-off the name of a contractor allegedly hired by Belfast City Council was painted on a wall close to the leisure centre by masked men.

One of those the PSNI wants to talk to

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, who addressed protesters at the site last year, took to Twitter last night to brand the publication of the pictures as “absolutely appalling”.

“PSNI hell bent on damaging community relations, serious issues as to why they are publishing images of people pre-arrest,” he wrote.

“They’d need to be careful, this could backfire on them.”

The north Down based blogger added: “How many images have PSNI issued of republicans?

“Yet when it comes to an entirely peaceful unionist cultural celebration at Avoniel, they are shamelessly publishing images of Unionists. An outrage”.

Detective Chief Inspector Mary White said: “The decision to release images of any individuals into the public domain is not one we take lightly.

“Any decision to proceed is taken only after careful consideration of a number of factors, including human rights, NPCC (National Police Chiefs Council) guidelines and the overall needs of the investigation.”

DCI White said she wanted to speak to the four men in connection with "our ongoing investigations into persons unlawfully entering Avoniel Leisure Centre and disrupting its activities which took place in the area of Avoniel Road, Belfast on the run up to 11th July last year."

And she added: “We are committed to identifying those involved in a range of incidents across Belfast last summer and we will be relentless in our pursuit in order to bring these offenders before the Courts.

“By releasing these images I am hopeful that the wider community will help us identify these individuals. It is in everybody’s interest – as well as in the interest of justice - that those responsible are dealt with appropriately and I would urge anyone who may have any information to bring it forward."

Police later released a statement saying three of the individuals had been identified.

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