As has been noted earlier, the family of Coleraine murder victim, Kevin McDaid, have issued a statement critical of the PSNI’s handling of events in Coleraine in the period of time leading up to his murder. The PSNI’s response- issued by Assistant Chief Constable, Judith Gillespie (it seems ACC Finlay’s been benched, possibly following his ‘mavericks‘ faux pas?) is interesting for what it doesn’t say rather than its actual content.
There is no attempt to deny direct contact with loyalist paramilitaries, as has been suggested by the family of Kevin McDaid, and it is becoming clearer that, with time, the nature of those negotiations and the contacts on the loyalist side will become an increasing source of anxiety for the PSNI, not least proving the ACC Finlay directed assertion that those implicated were mavericks in the face of evidence as to the less than peripheral status of those now charged with the murder.
Nor is there an explanation as to why the PSNI would involve themselves in negotiating the removal of flags in this particular estate, allegedly at the behest of loyalist paramilitaries, whose record of flying flags in protestant and mixed residential communities remains unparalleled across the north of Ireland.
Meanwhile, ACC Gillespie’s stout defense of the PSNI officers’ actions in the estate during the violent attack is clearly not shared by columnist Kevin Myers, though his central contention that the murder is the result of an emasculated police service (and, surprise surprise, that’s the fault of republicans) collapses with the very mention of the name Robert Hamill, whose murder in Portadown was, of course, in full view of what Myers clearly believes to have been a more professional and effective policing service.As I see it, the Police Ombudsman will require answers to the following questions:
1. Who initiated the contacts during the day when ‘tensions’ were purportedly raised due to the display of an Irish Tricolour?
2. What specific ‘threats’ were relayed from loyalists to the PSNI regarding a possible loyalist invasion of the area concerned?
3. Who suggested the ‘compromise’ which involved removal of the flag and who was the loyalist ‘guarantor’ that the deal would effectively end the threat of violence?
4. Did the PSNI even consider informing their loyalist sources that threats of violence against the local community on the basis of the presence of flags were unacceptable and that the presence of flags was a non-issue for the PSNI, as they clearly are for the organisation in virtually every other district in the 6 counties?
5. Why did the PSNI put such faith in the word of the ‘guarantor’ to the extent of reducing the effective policing presence in the area?
6. A number of newspaper reports have indicated that loyalists were amassing outside a loyalist bar in the town in the period leading up to the attack. Were PSNI officers aware of this mobilisation and, if so, what actions were taken?
7. Were the PSNI officers in the area armed and, if so, why did they not fire warning shots into the air to attempt to disperse the crowd?