Northern Ireland

Man (47) charged after rioting in Newtownabbey as north sees worst widespread violence in years

Rioting in south Belfast on Friday night. Picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress
Rioting in south Belfast on Friday night. Picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress

A 47-year-old man has been charged with rioting and throwing a petrol bomb following disturbances in Newtownabbey, as a wave of violence hit the north over the Easter weekend.

Police came under attack in the mainly loyalist Rathcoole area of the Co Antrim town on Saturday night, 24 hours after violence had erupted in nearby Belfast and rioting continued for another night in Derry during the worst public disorder for several years.

A crowd of up to 30 rioters threw 30 petrol bombs at police lines in Newtownabbey in what the PSNI described as "an orchestrated attack on police".

Three vehicles were also hijacked and set alight.

One man caught fire after a petrol bomb was thrown from behind him. He rolled around on the ground to put out the flames and later ran off.

The 47-year-old man who was arrested is to appear in court in Belfast later this month.

In Belfast, 15 police officers were injured after petrol bombs, bricks and bottles were thrown at police in the Sandy Row area on Friday night.

A petrol bomb thrown at police lines in Sandy Row in south Belfast on Friday. Picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress
A petrol bomb thrown at police lines in Sandy Row in south Belfast on Friday. Picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress

Eight people were arrested.

Three teenage boys - aged 13, 14 and 17 - were later charged with rioting.

Three men and a woman have also been charged, while another man was released on bail pending further enquiries.

A further 12 officers were hurt in Derry on Friday night - the fifth successive night of violence in the Waterside area.

Other disturbances were reported in Cookstown, Co Tyrone on Saturday night, and at a peace line on Lanark Way in west Belfast on Friday.

Following the rioting in Newtownabbey, Chief Superintendent Davy Beck appealed for the violence to stop.

"We are living in unprecedented times, dealing with a global pandemic, no-one needs the added pressure of disorder in their community," he said.

"Everyone deserves to live in peace, free from violence. I would appeal to those who are taking to the streets to stop immediately, their actions are causing nothing but harm and distress to the very communities they claim they are representing. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better.

"No-one wants to be dragged back to the dark days when rioting was a common occurrence on the streets of Northern Ireland."

The disorder came amid the continuing political fall-out of the Public Prosecution Service's decision not to take action against anyone over the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey in June last year.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has called on Chief Constable Simon Byrne to resign over the policing of the funeral and indicated her party was considering withdrawing from the Policing Board.

There has also been disquiet amongst loyalism over the Northern Ireland Protocol which has effectively created a border in the Irish Sea.

Mrs Foster said many young people were "hugely frustrated by the events of this last week" but urged them not to get involved in rioting.

"I appeal to our young people not to get drawn into disorder which will lead to them having criminal convictions and blighting their own lives," she said.

Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation which represents rank and file officers, said police had been "pulled into the middle of political and social argument".

"These are police officers trying to do their best on a day and daily basis, but they find themselves at the butt of attacks and criticism and they're very, very annoyed and very frustrated about that," he said.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said the violence was "completely unacceptable".

"Violence is never the answer," he said. "There is no place for it in society.

"It is unwanted, unwarranted and I fully support the PSNI appeal for calm."

Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said the the disturbances were "an out-working of the DUP's rhetoric and undermining of the PSNI and criminal justice system".

"By their words and actions they have sent a very dangerous message to young people in loyalist areas."

DUP MP Gregory Campbell condemned the rioting but added: "For Gerry Kelly and Sinn Féin to comment on the frustrations on our streets without recognising the major part they played in creating that anger is arrogance personified.

"Sinn Féin helped organise an IRA man’s funeral where 2,000 people attended when other people couldn’t even have some of their own children at the funeral of a loved one.

"Gerry Kelly and co need to get real. People aren’t taps that some politician can turn on or off. Riots on the streets, just as they must be condemned, it also has to be realised that they are a symptom of the manner in which Sinn Féin has played fast and loose with the Covid rules whilst zealously demanding everyone else obey them.”

Alliance leader and justice minister Naomi Long said leaders must be mindful of their words.

"It's incumbent on leaders to behave responsibly and dial down the inflammatory rhetoric over recent days," the Alliance Party leader tweeted.

"Words have consequences."

SDLP South Belfast MP Claire Hanna blamed the "usual suspects" for creating "tension for electoral gain".

"History repeats, people lose hope, kids get criminal records, communities pull apart. There's a better way," she said.

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said the violence "must not be repeated".

"Tell me any time when street violence has advanced the cause that you purport to support," he said.