Page last updated at 10:52 GMT, Monday, 30 November 2009

PSNI defend town trouble response

Superindendent Barbara Gray said police could not have anticipated the size of the crowd.

The police have defended their handling of disturbances which broke out in Portadown over the weekend.

It is understood the trouble stems from an incident last month when two men were barred from a pub because they were drunk.

Ten police officers were injured and cars were damaged during the illegal protest. It had been planned through text messaging.

Supt Barbara Gray said police could not have anticipated the size of the crowd.

"I think what we need to just be very clear about is that (although) we did have texts, we didn't have any other information whatsoever coming from any section of the community to suggest that there were large numbers of people coming together," she said.

"I have to stress here that we did mount a policing operation and had resources dedicated to this should such an illegal gathering or illegal get-together actually happen."

Policing Board chairman Barry Gilligan is to ask the police about its handling of the protest.

The crowd gathered on Sunday shortly after midnight in the Mandeville Street and West Street area.

Local SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said plans were known for weeks and it should have been stopped.

The trouble, said by police to be sporadic, lasted for about three hours.

A 19-year-old man is to appear in court next month charged with assault on police and public order offences, while a 31-year-old was released pending further inquiries.

Text messages

Mrs Kelly said a "carefully-orchestrated loyalist mob" was behind the trouble.

"Two weeks ago we warned that texts were circulating calling on all loyalists to gather for a show of force in the centre of the town at pub closing time," she said.

"This was incredibly stupid, incredibly provocative and the purpose was made absolutely clear in the texts which we forwarded to the media - to intimidate nationalists and lay claim to ownership of the town centre.

"As far as I have heard the police were prepared and were able to move the mob back and generally control the situation. But the fundamental point is that a very substantial group of people are determined to deny access to the town centre for all."

The Irish News reported on 19 November that text messages were circulating urging loyalists to gather on a given weekend night "to show republicans that we will not tolerate their behaviour or presence in our area".

'Abhorrent'

It is understood that the text messages began after a pub owner refused entry to a number of drunk people on Remembrance Sunday.

The people who were barred wrongly believed it was because they were wearing poppies.

Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition spokesman Breandan Mac Cionnaith said: "By permitting this intimidatory mob to assemble last night in the first place, the PSNI ensured a clear message was sent out signalling that Portadown town centre is not a welcome or safe place at night for Catholics or nationalists.

"That is totally and completely objectionable and abhorrent and cannot be justified under any circumstances."



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'Loyalist mob' blamed for trouble
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