Baggot Defends His Actions

Posted By: November 13, 2013

Allison Morris. Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday, November 13, 2013
As pressure mounts on the PSNI to tackle out-of-control elements of loyalism, Chief Constable Matt Baggott defends his actions. He spoke to Allison Morris
Matt Baggott has denied his officers are failing to tackle the UVF.
In the past year the east Belfast faction of the paramilitary group has been accused of orchestrating riots, attempting to murder a 24-year-old woman, and the glorification of terrorism through the erection of flags and murals.
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott concedes that the force has “plainly a lot of work to

do to assure people we are not ignoring” the UVF.
But in an interview with the Irish News, he argues there is a difference between

loyalist paramilitarism and loyalist crime.
“We don’t believe the UVF as an organisation has come off ceasefire – that’s a

paramilitary issue – but undoubtedly they have some local crime gangs in east Belfast,” he said.
“We haven’t been speaking about it too much but we have been at them this last number

of years, we’ve charged a significant number of them with extortion and robbery offences.
“We will take them out for anything we can. They operate in areas where people live in fear, and it’s controversial to say but they also operate in areas where there is community allegiance.
We see that through some of the bands, we see that through the murals and we have a hearts and minds battle in some areas between those who want them out and those who give them the support they thrive on”.
In relation to the high-profile paramilitary-style attack on 24-year-old Jemma McGrath, Mr Baggott said he did not believe police were wrong not to attribute it to the UVF. There was shock when the east Belfast woman was shot in the lower abdomen, hips and knees in September, and former DUP lord mayor Gavin Robinson was among those critical of a lack of action against the UVF in the area.
“That investigation is full on, we’re working hard on. That it was a disgraceful crime,” the
PSNI chief said.
“I don’t think it’s my job to use politics or public opinion in that way, I have to be impartial, I have to follow the evidence.
“If I was to start attributing blame prematurely, particularly in a horrific crime like that, we run the risk of the court process being under-mined later.”
In July more than 1,000 mutual assistance officers were brought in from forces in Britain to help police the volatile marching season.
Mr Baggott said he believed Northern Ireland had been in danger of falling “over the precipice” following months of loyalist street protests and violence over flags and parades.
“Last year, before all of this broke out, we were concerned about the resilience of the PSNI and so last year we doubled the number of officers trained to deal with public disorder,” he said.
“We completely replaced all the public order equipment, new Land Rovers etc, and entered into conversations about how we could train officers to come over here and support us if things got really tough.
“Now we couldn’t have predicated where we would believe if we hadn’t put those steps in place just in case, then we would have fallen over the precipice.
“We had to make some really tough decisions at the start of the year – because of the scale of the (flag) protests we couldn’t deal with everything.
“We have 550 parades on the twelfth and genuinely we did look at the fact that the year before we didn’t have any real contingency. The army’s gone and I’ve made it very clear the army won’t be back.
“We’ve lost 20,000 soldiers and rightly so. The PSNI has gone down from 13,000 to well below 7,000.
“I was concerned if we had an outbreak of volatility how would we manage and still try to preserve some degree of policing as usual.
“In terms of protecting life the remarkable thing about this year is we have come through it without a single member of the public getting seriously hurt, plus we have brought well over 500 before the courts or recommended for prosecution and that work continues relentlessly.
“I think history and hindsight will show it was the right approach.”
In relation to the permanent loyalist camp at Twaddell, near the Ardoyne parades flashpoint in north Belfast, Mr Baggott also defended the PSNI’s approach – but warned of the hugecost of policing the nightly protests.

“What I have been doing is pointing out is the consequences – 4,000 less arrests for ordinary offences, £50,000 a day and that is unbudgeted.

“I don’t have the money in the coffers so next year I may have to go to the Executive and say this is the bill.”