1. ITV Report

PSNI denies talks with UVF over controversial bonfire

PSNI officers at the site of the Avoneil bonfire in east Belfast. Credit: Presseye

A senior PSNI officer has denied that police held talks with the UVF over a controversial bonfire in east Belfast.

The bonfire, in the grounds of Avoniel Leisure Centre, was lit last week on the Eleventh night after councillors backed down over plans to demolish it.

Belfast City Council’s hired private contractor pulled out of the job, following the appearance of sinister graffiti threats close to the site purporting to identify the company.

The PSNI had warned the council that sending in contractors, escorted by its officers, could have prompted serious disorder orchestrated by the east Belfast grouping of the UVF, with the risk of gun violence.

However the PSNI moved to clarify on Tuesday that it had no formal engagement or meetings with members of the UVF.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: “The PSNI was ready to assist the council and had significant resources ready to support the removal of material from the Avoniel Leisure Centre car park, however, the council was unable to secure a contractor to carry out this work. It is important to note that the PSNI does not have any legal powers regarding the removal of bonfire-related material from the site.

“PSNI will routinely work with community representatives to find resolutions to local issues. At Avoniel and other bonfire sites officers came into contact with local people present there, including senior loyalists. This does not constitute formal engagement and no meetings took place between police and members of the UVF.”

The bonfire builders involved in east Belfast deny the UVF was involved in the dispute.

Jamie Bryson said: “The PSNI spoke to the East Belfast Cultural Collective. The East Belfast Cultural Collective met the PSNI as part of a delegation at Musgrave Street, met the most senior police officer in Belfast.

“I and a number of others were involved in regular, daily communication with senior police officers and the police came here and met members of east Belfast Cultural Collective on a number of occasions.”