Northern Ireland

Police Ombudsman finds PSNI approach to monuments protest compared to Black Lives Matter rallies likely to 'damage confidence' in force

A Black Lives Matter protest in Belfast's Custom House Square in 2020. Picture by Mal McCann.
A Black Lives Matter protest in Belfast's Custom House Square in 2020. Picture by Mal McCann. A Black Lives Matter protest in Belfast's Custom House Square in 2020. Picture by Mal McCann.

THE Police Ombudsman has found a PSNI investigation into a protest in Belfast risked damaging confidence in policing among the north's ethnic communities.

Ombudsman Marie Anderson said the officer leading the investigation into the protest at Belfast City Hall in June 2020 failed to carry out a "thorough and careful investigation", and ruled the probe was closed prematurely.

The rally was held at the height of the anti-racism protests following the murder of George Floyd in the US.

In the wake of the murder, statues in the US and UK with links to slavery were toppled by protesters.

Organisers of the Belfast rally at the centre of the police investigation said it was to defend war memorials.

At the time, Covid regulations banned gatherings of more than 10 people from different households.

No arrests were made, or fines issued at the event, but police had claimed "substantial" evidence gathering took place.

The ombudsman said the PSNI's "lack of consistency", when compared to identifying and fining people attending Black Lives Matter rallies in Belfast and Derry, was likely to "compound damage to confidence in policing" among ethnic communities.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said the force aimed to improve relationships with all communities in the north and was training officers on a "human rights-based approach" to policing protests.