Northern Ireland news

PSNI u-turn on Black Live Matter fines to see records deleted

Black Lives Matter protest in Customs House Square, Belfast Picture Mal McCann.

SIX months after the PSNI insisted it had no powers to rescind controversial Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest fines, it has started the process to give the money back.

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the service is taking "action to correct (an) error".

An ombudsman's report into the policing of the two BLM demonstrations was highly critical, describing officer's actions as disproportionate, discriminatory and showing disregard to human rights in relation to freedom of expression and protest and treated the protesters differently from those who gathered for a Protect Our Statues protest.

The Public Prosecution Service indicated in June that it would not be taking anyone to court on the basis of the files submitted by the PSNI and a Policing Board report found a court might rule that the actions of officers was unlawful.

Of the change in policy first reported by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, Mr Hamilton said he has "written to the Minster of Health to inform him of our intention to request the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service to refund paid fines and cancel any outstanding warrants issued at two Black Lives Matter events in Londonderry/Derry and Belfast on June 6 2020".

"We have taken this step in light of recent findings by the Northern Ireland Policing Board, Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and most recently the decisions of the Public Prosecutions Service," he told The Irish News.

"Against a backdrop of an unprecedented health crisis and rapidly changing legislation, our objective has always been to help slow the spread of the virus to keep people safe. Balancing this against our obligation to safeguard other important rights – such as the right to peacefully protest has not been easy or comfortable.

"We have previously accepted that as a service, we have not always got that balance right. We believe we erred in our use of penalty notices at these two events and are taking this action to correct that error.

"We are working to implement the lessons learned from this period and are determined to improve relationships and build confidence and trust in policing among all communities in Northern Ireland."

The move is specific to the 72 COV1 (£60) penalty notices handed out at Custom House Square and Guildhall Square on the day of the Black Lives Matter protests last year.

The PSNI is expected to also update its records and systems to reflect the deleted fines.

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