Frustration over PSNI refusal to engage with Council over 'heavy-handed policing' in Creggan

Emmet Doyle

Aontú councillor for the Ballyarnett ward, Emmet Doyle, said the PSNI's unwillingness to engage with the Council is "a PR disaster for the police"

Aontú councillor, Emmet Doyle, has expressed frustration at the PSNI's lack of willingness to engage with the council on allegations of heavy-handed policing in Derry's Creggan area.

Mr Doyle, who represents the Ballyarnett ward, was speaking following a meeting between Derry & Strabane Council and the Deputy Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), Daniel Holder last night.

The PSNI's methods were discussed with a number of incidents, including one in the Ballymagowan area where the police were accused of heavy-handedness towards women and children during a house search last March.

Complaints included allegations of a child being assaulted, a woman pinned to the ground by two male officers, bystanders attacked with batons with one receiving a serious head injury and other allegations of police taunting bystanders and flaunting their weapons.

At the time, the then-District Commander of the PSNI in Derry & Strabane, Darrin Jones, said: “I strongly refute the allegations made. I have and will continue to meet with any elected representative to discuss how police are working to keep our community safe.”

However, Cllr Doyle insists that the-then District Commander was not true to his word and refused on a number of occasions to meet with the elected representatives of the Council and that Councillors will persist to try and get a meeting with his successor, the current District Commander, Ryan Henderson.

Cllr Doyle said: “Last March there was a police search operation at a house in Ballymagowan Gardens. There were at this point 18 land rovers in a built-up area.

“When the search was ongoing, another resident from the area tried to speak to the police and she was pulled down by two male police officers.

“There was another incident earlier that same day when a member of the public was struck by a police baton. So there was already a lot of consternation within the area.

“So when the police were leaving, they were attacked by stones from young people.

“That wasn't the only issue. A couple of weeks later, we had a gentleman shot in the chest on the Waterside by the police.

“I undertook at that point to go and speak to residents and I put a motion through the Council condemning the incident and to call for the District Commander (Darrin Jones) to come before Council and answer questions.

“He responded saying that he would come over but we needed to send our questions to him beforehand. Myself and a number of other Councillors did this – I pulled no punches with my own questions.

“Then the day of the meeting, we were informed that the District Commander had pulled out and said he wouldn't come.

“We've tried on three occasions to invite the District Commander to come and he still wouldn't. He has since left his role and another District Commander (Ryan Henderson) is in place and our offer of a meeting is still there.

“The police would say that because of a 'security threat' when they carry out these searches, they have to be conscious of an open threat. Which is why they are – as they might put it – 'resource intensive' on these searches.

“We would instead call it that as being 'heavy-handed'.

“I know people who have had they house burgled who are still waiting six weeks later for a police officer to come to their house.

“But at the same time, around the corner there's a house search with up to a dozen fully-armed police officers with land rovers. I mean 18 land rovers in a street where you probably couldn't get in 18 cars to search one house with two adults and two children is, by anybody's standards, disproportionate.

“I'm sure that one day we will get the District Commander in front of the Council because right now, this is a PR disaster for the police.”

During last night's meeting, Councillors discussed with Mr Holder the report they had commissioned the CAJ with to look into the allegations.

Cllr Shaun Harkin of People Before Profit said the CAJ reported vindicated the residents and the Council's concerns about policing in the Creggan area.

The representative for the Foyleside ward said: “The report validates the criticisms made about police conduct in Creggan and elsewhere. Police actions were violent and disproportionate.

“Working class communities, Creggan and elsewhere, dealing with high levels of deprivation and social need are regularly criminalised.

“The Stormont Executive parties have questions to answer when it comes to the PSNI's lack of democratic accountability.

“Are these police actions Stormont government policies or is the PSNI a law unto itself?

“The Stormont Executive needs to explain why we see police harassment and criminalisation of Save our Sperrins campaigners, of women demanding the right to choose, Black Lives Matter protestors and of Palestine solidarity supporters.

“However we do not see this action for those responsible for the denial of human rights, for corporations responsible for pollution and destruction of our environment, for the promotion of racism and for rising inequality and poverty.

“Governments are becoming more authoritarian in response to rising levels of inequality and social crises.

“We need to continue to push for accountability through whatever means we have available but a bigger challenge to the structural role of policing and its relationship to the lack of democratic accountability, injustice and inequality is now underway.”

In response, a spokesperson for the PSNI said: “The PSNI’s Senior Command Team in Derry City and Strabane continue to engage with elected public representatives formally through the Policing and Community Safety Partnership’s Policing Committee which has the relevant statutory powers for oversight of local policing.

“Engagement also takes place regularly on a more informal basis via one to one meetings.

“Chief Superintendent Ryan Henderson has recently been appointed as the new commander for the District and is looking forward to meeting with elected representatives and community partners in the weeks and months ahead.”

Regarding the incident that took place in Ballymagowan, the PSNI spokesperson said a statement on events that took place there on the night of March 18, 2021, had been released on March 25, 2021 and that they had “nothing further to add” and that they “have not had sight of any CAJ report”.

The PSNI spokesperson added: “When police are carrying out operations such as this one, a thorough community impact assessment along with other checks and balances is carried out to ensure our actions are compliant with Human Rights Legislation and we are acting within the rule of law.”

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