Security alert cleared before Relief of Derry parade

POLICE and Army Technical Officers cleared a security alert on one of the arterial routes of the annual Apprentice Boys Relief of Derry Parade before the start of the main parade on Saturday.

An alert began on the Waterside's Spencer Road shortly after 2am on Saturday morning when the PSNI received information that a suspect device had been left in the area.

Five petrol bombs were hurled at police on Spencer Road at around 3am as they carried out their investigation and sleeping tourists at Iona House, a guest house on the road had to be evacuated from premises.

Tensions surrounding the parade in Londonderry had been largely dissipated after the cancellation of a planned protest by dissident republicans. Members of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement had signalled their intention to hold a 'white line' picket on Londonderry's Shipquay Street yards from the main Apprentice Boys parade on Saturday afternoon over issues concerning republican prisoners at HMP Magheraberry. But, a deal between the prisoners and the jail authorities saw the cancellation of the protest and the dampening of fears of violence during the main parade.

Approximately 600 police were drafted into Londonderry on Saturday, but they maintained a relatively low key presence which was maintained by the PSNI in Londonderry from early on Saturday morning.

A PSNI helicopter hovered over the city centre from around 8am on Saturday morning whilst the initial events by the Apprentice Boys took place. It maintained its presence over the city's Diamond as a wreath laying ceremony in remembrance of the war dead took place at Londonderry's Cenotaph.

And, before the start of the main parade at approximately 12.30 police deployed a spotter plane over the city which circled for some hours until the parade ended.

One stark reminder that fears over dissident republican attacks were still prevalent however was the sealing off of public waste bins in the city centre so that explosive devices could not be planted in them.

Londonderry’s senior police officer Chief Supt Stephen Martin said the heavy police presence for the parade was prompted by the recent car bomb attack at Strand Road PSNI station.

“We have had to put in place a sizeable operation involving several hundred police officers if we are going to ensure the safety of people either parading, going about their business, or even those people who are opposed to the parade. It’s about keeping everyone safe.

“Unfortunately, given recent events and recent tensions, we have had to put a significant police operation in place. It is my hope that we will be able to scale that operation back as quickly as possible after the parade.”

Many shops in the city centre remained closed during the march and, at one stage, the Richmond Centre shut its doors briefly after a crowd of youths gathered outside it to jeer at marchers.

However, fears that violence would break out as the Apprentice Boys returned to the city centre at 5.30pm quickly evapourated.

Some nationalist youths did gather at Butcher Street as the march made its way back into Bishop Street, whilst others gathered behind screens at the Richmond Centre. But by 6pm The Diamond was empty and the event over.