Police investigate Derry flute band wearing Parachute Regiment emblem

Former member of Parachute Regiment charged with murder at Bloody Sunday

The wearing of a Parachute Regiment emblem by a flute band parading in Derry on Saturday is being investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

PSNI Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said they were investigating the “behaviour and symbols displayed by one band” at the Apprentice Boys of Derry parade.

Images circulated on social media appeared to show the emblem and a letter F on the sleeve of the uniforms worn by members of the Clyde Valley Flute band from Larne, Co Antrim.

A former member of the Parachute Regiment known as Soldier F is facing two charges of murder and four charges of attempted murder in connection with Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972, when 13 civilians were shot dead by the British army regiment. A 14th died later.


In recent months controversial banners bearing Parachute Regiment insignia and declaring support for Soldier F and have been displayed in many parts of Northern Ireland. These have been condemned by the Bloody Sunday Trust, which represents the families of the victims.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Supt McCalmont said the police investigation was being conducted on the basis that the display of the emblems constituted "provocative conduct".

The Governor of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, Graeme Stenhouse, said the police’s actions were “heavy-handed” and that he believed no crime had been committed.

On Saturday thousands of members of the Apprentice Boys – a loyal order similar to the Orange Order – marched through the centre of Derry for their annual parade which commemorates the relief of Derry and the ending of the siege of 1689.

The Clyde Valley Flute Band was escorted on the parade by PSNI officers. The band’s bus was later stopped outside Derry and band members were asked to provide their names and addresses.


Sinn Féin councillor Christopher Jackson said that it was "unacceptable that a flute band bearing symbols relating to Soldier F were allowed to march" in the parade, and that his party intended to raise the issue with the Parades Commission and the police.

“This is a deliberate attempt to stir up tension and to hurt the families of the Bloody Sunday victims,” he said.

The Bloody Sunday Trust has said it will seek a meeting with both the PSNI and the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

The chair of the Trust, Tony Doherty, said the “disgraceful display of pro-Parachute Regiment regalia” had caused unnecessary tensions and had a negative impact on community relations.

The DUP MP for East Derry, Gregory Campbell, described the policing operation as “over the top” and his party colleagues in East Antrim, including the MP Sammy Wilson, said the police’s actions towards the band caused “a huge amount of anger and ill will towards the PSNI.

The heavy handedness of the police was completely unwarranted and unjustified and there are many questions that the police will have to answer.

“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Chief Constable and will put these questions to him directly.”

Supt McCalmont defended the policing operation at the march and said it had been “balanced and proportionate”.

“Regrettably we are dealing with two very upset and hurt communities that are disappointed in police actions,” he said.

“I have one community that is upset that the band walked in the city displaying those symbols, and then the treatment of the band has caused concern.”


He said the PSNI’s view had been that the display of Parachute Regiment emblems “would likely lead to a breach of the peace” and for that reason police had stopped the band initially in the Waterside.

“It started getting a bit dangerous in terms of public safety and indeed officer safety,” he said.

If the band had been removed from the parade, he said, “it was my view we were moving towards disorder.”

Responding to criticism that supporting a military regiment is not illegal, Supt McCalmont agreed that “there is nothing illegal for showing support and that is one we’re going to have to manage in the coming weeks and months around the sensitivities of coming trials.

“But its about context, and the geographical context – we’re talking hundreds of metres here from where Bloody Sunday unfolded.

“We made the assessment that the geographical sensitivities were such that any display would likely lead to a breach of the peace and indeed our investigation will carry through on the basis that that is provocative conduct displaying anything where disorder is likely to happen,” he said.

During the march five people were arrested for public order offences. A counter-protest was held during the parade by the dissident republican political party Saoradh.

The PSNI said several people are to be reported to the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) over an “unnotified protest”.

On Saturday evening two petrol bombs were thrown at the Apprentice Boys’ headquarters, the Memorial Hall in Derry.

Police were subsequently attacked with 15-20 petrol bombs and other missiles, and pallets were set on fire. Nobody was injured. A police investigation is underway.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times