Police attacked with petrol bombs during another night of riots in Northern Ireland

4 April 2021, 13:13 | Updated: 5 April 2021, 15:47

Around 30 petrol bombs were thrown at police in Northern Ireland last night
Around 30 petrol bombs were thrown at police in Northern Ireland last night. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Police in Northern Ireland had around 30 petrol bombs thrown at them in what has been branded an "orchestrated attack" during a further night of disorder.

Officers were attacked in Newtownabbey on the outskirts of Belfast on Saturday, following violent scenes in the city's Sandy Row area and in Londonderry on Friday.

Police said the disorder in Derry continued for a fifth consecutive night on Friday when 12 officers were injured by a large group throwing bottles, fireworks, masonry and petrol bombs.

In total, 27 police officers were injured on Friday night across both the capital and Londonderry.

North Area Commander Chief Superintendent Davy Beck said 30 petrol bombs were thrown at officers and three cars set alight in Newtownabbey as part of an "orchestrated attack on police" on Saturday.

The police chief added that between 7:30pm and 10:30pm a crowd of roughly two-dozen people, including young people and older men, some of whom were wearing masks, gathered in the O'Neill Road/Cloughfern area.

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Vehicles were set alight during the disturbances in Northern Ireland
Vehicles were set alight during the disturbances in Northern Ireland. Picture: PA

"In total 30 petrol bombs were thrown at police and three vehicles were hijacked and set on fire," he said.

"One man, aged 47, was arrested and he currently remains in police custody."

Mr Beck added: "My officers put on their uniform every day and go out into the community they serve, not knowing what lies ahead of them," he said. However, this does not deter them from turning up every day to do their duty.

"No-one, no matter what line of work they are in, deserves to be subjected to any kind of violence.

"The officers who serve the Newtownabbey area are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, they have families who wait every day on their loved ones coming home, hoping they have not been injured, or worse."

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He said: "We are living in unprecedented times, dealing with a global pandemic, no-one needs the added pressure of disorder in their community.

"I would appeal to those who are taking to the streets to stop immediately, their actions are causing nothing but harm and distress to the very communities they claim they are representing."

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Rioters clashed with police in the Sandy Row area of Belfast on Friday
Rioters clashed with police in the Sandy Row area of Belfast on Friday. Picture: PA

The violent scenes come amid tensions within loyalism across Northern Ireland.

Loyalists and unionists are angry about post-Brexit trading arrangements which they claim have created barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

In Co Antrim, a recent series of drug seizures against the South East Antrim UDA - a renegade faction of the main grouping - have caused particular ill-feeling towards police. The faction is believed to have been behind the disturbances in Newtownabbey on Saturday.

Tensions ramped up further this week following a controversial decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein politicians for attending a large-scale republican funeral during Covid-19 restrictions.

All the main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and other unionist parties have condemned the violence.

Police officers were deployed in the capital on Friday night
Police officers were deployed in the capital on Friday night. Picture: PA

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly claimed the disturbances were "a direct consequence of the actions of political unionism".

"The disturbances in loyalist areas across the north are an outworking of the DUP's rhetoric and undermining of the PSNI and criminal justice system," he said.

"By their words and actions, they have sent a very dangerous message to young people in loyalist areas.

"The DUP and political unionist leaders need to show leadership and end the incendiary rhetoric."

Meanwhile, seven people have been charged with riot after the disturbances in the Sandy Row area.

Four adults - three men aged 25, 21 and 18 years old, and a woman, aged 19 - have been charged with riot. All four are due to appear at Belfast Magistrates' Court on 30 April.

Three teenagers, aged 17, 14 and 13, have also been charged with riot. They are also due to appear at Belfast Youth Court on 30 April.

As is normal procedure, all charges will be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service.

An eighth person arrested in connection with the unrest on Friday night, a 19-year-old man, has been released on police bail pending further inquiries.