Fines over anti-racism protest to be challenged

People who were fined for taking part in weekend Black Lives Matter protests are set to challenge the PSNI in court.

Up to 70 people were issued with fines, under lockdown restrictions, at protests in Belfast and Londonderry.

Lawyers for the protesters say the fines should be quashed, but police say the regulations are there to protect everyone, and should be followed.

Around 500 people took part in the anti-racism rallies on Saturday, sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US.

Chalk still marks the ground in Custom House Square in Belfast - drawn by protest organisers to help demonstrators socially distance.

But up to 70 protestors were fined by police for breaching the current coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

The police action has angered some of those involved in the rallies.

Ciara McHugh, a protest steward who was fined by police, said: “The fact the other events earlier in the week were not as well-organised, not organised by BAME groups and local groups, and those were the events that police did not fine people.”

Another demonstration in Belfast last week had forced Stormont ministers and senior police officers to repeatedly appeal for the weekend Black Lives Matter protests not to go ahead in the midst of the pandemic.

Justice Minister Naomi Long has described the police response on Saturday as proportionate, but protest organisers disagree.

Ivanka Antova, United Against Racism Belfast, said: “A peaceful protest, where people are socially distancing, was met with heavy duty police vehicles, armoured police vehicles, and with some PSNI officers in riot gear, so that wasn’t a proportionate response.”

Lawyers are now challenging the police fines and believe they should all be quashed.

Solicitor Darragh Mackin said: “The reality is some people were issued fines even prior to getting to the venue, even prior to it starting.

“An analogous example to that would be someone being issued a fine for speeding prior to even leaving the car.”

On Saturday, the PSNI said the health regulations are there to protect everyone during the pandemic and that a number of people will be reported to the PPS following the protests.

A senior officer also said there would be further enquiries to identify others who may have also committed offences.

In a statement to UTV, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said health protection regulations were in place to protect us all during this pandemic and it was everyone's responsibility to adhere to them to protect society.

He also said in normal circumstances police work with organisers of protests to facilitate events - but that these are not ordinary times.