PSNI challenged on ‘Provo’ activity

THE Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) have challenged the PSNI over its refusal to confirm or deny whether it holds information in relation to alleged Provisional IRA activity in Londonderry.

PUP concerns centre on a story run in the Londonderry Sentinel in September 2010 when people in the Gobnascale district claimed that identifiable members of the mainstream republican movement threatened local youths with handguns that they then fired in an attempt to deter them from building a bonfire in the district in August 2010.

At the time locals said that around 20 masked men appeared in the Campion Court area having disembarked from a white van. They began to remove materials intended for use at a bonfire before being challenged by local youths.

The vehicle that ferried the masked men was later abandoned causing a security alert in the district during which some homes were evacuated.

One 15-year-old girl challenged by the masked assailants said at the time that she was left terrified by the incident.

“One of the men grabbed me by the throat and had a gun in his hand. I couldn’t breath. It was really scary,” she said.

It was then claimed that as police arrived into the area the men removed their masks to blend in with local people, causing them to be identified as members of the mainstream republican movement. This view was backed by dissident republican groupings.

The Londonderry Sentinel subsequently launched a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the PSNI about Provisional IRA activity in the city. The request centred on all reports, emails and memos sent to or sent by the PSNI or within the PSNI which make mention of the Provisional IRA being involved in criminal activity of any sort within G District from July 1, 2010 to July 28, 2011.

After an initial denial to grant the requested information, the Sentinel requested an internal review, citing that disclosing the information was in the public interest. But, the PSNI review did not find in the newspaper’s favour citing amongst other sections of the FoI Act that matters of national security outweigh the public interest.

However, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson has now voiced “serious concerns” on this decision and says his party plans to raise the issue with the PSNI Chief Constable and the Police Ombudsman.

Mr Hutchinson said: “A newspaper in Londonderry has stated that mainstream republicans were allegedly involved in an incident where 20 masked men chased youths from a bonfire in the city and shots were fired. A Freedom of Information request for information on criminal activity by the Provisional IRA in the city was refused, as was the appeal.

“This raises a number of important issues, particularly at a time when mainstream republicans were taking seats on new Police and Community Safety Partnerships,” he said.

The PUP leader continued by arguing that if the PSNI is to be open and accountable then its decisions must also be transparent.

Mr Hutchinson said: “I’m confused as to why the PSNI don’t feel they can share this information with the public.

“The public has a right to know if the Provisional IRA are engaging in criminal activity, particularly if Sinn Fein are in government. The release of this information is most certainly in the public interest and I would ask who is being protected by the PSNI stance, and most importantly,why?”

The PUP leader urged other unionist parties to also ask questions.

“The attitude of the PSNI towards this issue is in stark contrast to their attitude towards the loyalist community, where they will act on scurrilous claims by dubious witnesses, as evidenced in the recent super grass trial,” he claimed.

“They seem to have no problem wasting an estimated £10 million on the cost of this trial, yet they can’t be open and transparent about a simple FoI request.”