Police tasked with trying to control rioting in Lurgan on Saturday have told UTV they believe the violence was an “orchestrated” attempt to lure in and attack officers.
Over a period of four hours, over 30 petrol bombs and assorted paint bombs and fireworks were hurled at officers by mainly young teenagers.
“I believe this was completely orchestrated,” PSNI Chief Inspector Ken Mawhinney said.
“From my officers deployed on the ground, within ten minutes, stoning attacks had already started. Within half an hour, the first petrol bomb was thrown.”
Police were investigating reports of a number of suspicious devices, in the Lake Street and Antrim Road areas of the Co Armagh town, when the trouble flared. The alerts later proved to be an elaborate hoax.
“It is our belief that the hoax was an effort to entice them into the area, to attack the very service the community tells us they want,” Ch. Insp. Mawhinney added, describing the violence as “uncalled for and unwanted”.
According to police, over 50 people were involved in the sustained attacks. Officers fired one baton round and believe a rioter was struck in the lower leg.
At one point, train services were disrupted as the railway line had to be closed. Police say that was as much for the safety of rioters, who were walking across the lines, as it was to protect any passing trains and those onboard.
A number of homes were also evacuated for a time.
Ch. Insp. Mawhinney told UTV no arrests were made during the rioting, but that evidence-gathering teams using camera had been deployed and that police hope to make arrests when those involved have been identified.
“The message is very clear – we will actively pursue those who break the law,” he said.
“You’re achieving nothing and all you’re doing is seeking to disrupt the communities you live in and nobody wants it.”
SDLP Upper Bann MLA Delores Kelly has also hit out at those and the disruption caused by them.
“The people of the area are weary beyond words and absolutely furious with this planned and orchestrated disruption,” she said.
“We must keep appealing to young people – and to the parents who should be exercising some degree of control over them – not to get taken in by those who stay away from the front line, not to take part in so-called recreational rioting.
“This disruption is hitting their neighbours, their own families and relatives. It can lead to nothing positive, it can serve no cause – it is just plain stupid as well as dangerous.”
Sinn Féin councillor Johnny McGibbon said: “There can be no justification for the planting of a device, hoax or otherwise, at one of the busiest junctions within North Lurgan nor for the subsequent attacks on those who were dealing with the device in an effort to get the community back to normality.”