Northern Ireland news

PSNI had no evidence of threat to Larne Port staff insists senior policeman

STRONG WORDS Mid and East Antrim council mayor Peter Johnston and chief executive Anne Donaghy appear before Stormont’s agriculture committee yesterday. During the hearing, Mr Johnston said he feels let down by the PSNI over the withdrawal of staff from post-Brexit checks at Larne Port
Connla Young

A SENIOR PSNI officer has repeated that there was no information to support claims of a paramilitary threat to staff at Larne Port earlier this year.

Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton spoke out after the DUP mayor of Mid and East Antrim Peter Johnston said he feels “badly let down” by police around the withdrawal of staff from post-Brexit checks at Larne Port.

Mr Johnston made the remarks as he and chief executive Anne Donaghy addressed Stormont’s agriculture committee yesterday.

The committee has been examining a decision to withdrawn Irish Sea border inspection staff from the Co Antrim port in February.

The move to halt inspections came after Mid and East Antrim Borough council re-deployed employees involved in physical checks at Larne port following the appearance of threatening graffiti in the seaside town.

It was also claimed that workers’ car registrations had been taken down amid loyalist anger over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has effectively created a post-Brexit border in the Irish Sea.

The Department of Agriculture also withdrew department staff from ports at Larne, Belfast and Warrenpoint in early February.

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Police have said there was no evidence that loyalist paramilitary groups were behind the threatening graffiti or that workers’ car registrations had been recorded.

During yesterday’s hearing committee Mr Johnston rounded on the PSNI.

“Throughout this whole episode we have been badly let down by the PSNI, and I don’t say those words lightly,” he said.

“Given the severity of this situation, the level of communication and the lack of transparency has been truly disappointing.”

Mr Johnston also questioned evidence given to the committee by ACC Singleton, last week.

“The temporary assistant chief constable said that to his knowledge there had been no contact between Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and the PSNI between January 21 to February 1.

“Completely contrary to this, however, you’ll find in the council’s written evidence a detailed log of no less than eight engagements between council and PSNI during this period.”

ACC Singleton responded last night.

“It’s disappointing to learn that these key partners felt let down,” he said.

“Our assessment of the threat in Larne was, we felt, consistently made clear to our partners; namely there was no information to substantiate or corroborate claims of paramilitary involvement in making anonymous threats.

“We did increase the number of high visibility patrols across Larne and at other points of entry to provide reassurance to staff and the local community.”

The officer said “where we have any credible information about a threat we will of course share that with our partners at the earliest opportunity and take appropriate action”.

“Should the committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs have any further questions for PSNI I will be happy to answer them.”

During the committee hearing Ms Donaghy told MLAs of “sinister and threatening graffiti” appearing from the middle of January.

“There was increasing information from political representatives, contacts at grassroots and staff that suggested tensions were rising, this included reports that Crimestoppers had been informed of a number of individuals at the port were being targeted,” she said.

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