Loyalists claim PSNI approach to Markethill parade was ‘intimidatory’ due to scale of officers filming and vehicles

Loyalists have complained about what they claim was a heavy handed approach to policing a parade in Markethill.

Markethill Protestant Boys Flute Band paraded through the town on Monday night with no restrictions from the Parades Commission, to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland.

“Before this short controlled procession began, several police officers began to gather around the band,” said a statement on the Facebook site of Markethill District Orange Lodge No 10.

“No less than three police videographers were focused directly on the band.”

PSNI officers at the Markethill Protestant Boys Flute Band parade in the town to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, on May 3, 2021.

As they formed up to start parading police warned via loudspeaker that they must disperse due to Covid regulations. Organisers said several PSNI cameramen followed the parade for about half of the procession.

One source in the band community argued that the band itself was socially distanced.

“To have this single band of young men, women and children videoed and photographed in what many would consider as an overtly intimidatory manner, is worrying enough, but to have eight police vehicles present for an event of a few dozen people is blatantly disproportionate,” he said.

He also complained that the Parades Commission classed the parade as “sensitive” - but without representations or restrictions.

However UUP MLA Doug Beattie challenged the understanding of organisers.

Acknowledging that Markethill is just outside his constituency, he said there were similar notified parades in Lurgan, Waringstown and Banbridge over the weekend.

“And on every occasion police stood back and had a low profile because the bands cooperated and did not parade.

“The PSNI advised the bands that Covid regulations stop them holding a procession however it allows them to do band practise.

“So other bands did band practise throughout the town. In Banbridge for example I think they did a band practise in about four different locations and didn’t parade between them.

“People turned up and watched and the police stayed a respectful distance back and there was no trouble.”

He acknowledged there was disparity in how police had handled the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey, which has angered many loyalists.

“The handling of the funeral was not correct and we know there is now a review ongoing by the PPS,” he said.

“So in that matter they are right but the police are between a rock and hard place. Covid regulations area designed in Stormont to keep people safe and police are only following orders.”

The Parades Commission said: “The notification was marked sensitive as the number of participants proposed exceeded those permitted by current Covid-19 regulations. No restrictions were, however, issued by the Commission.”

The PSNI responded that The Health Protection Regulations remain in place and it is important that people continue to adhere to them.

Chief Inspector Barney O’Connor said: “Police were in attendance at a notified parade at Main Street in Markethill on Monday 3rd May.

“In relation to potential breaches of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2021, warnings were given and an evidence gathering operation put in place. We will now review all the footage gathered.”

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