PSNI denies holding formal meetings with UVF about Belfast bonfire

Force warned of gunfire risk if materials taken from loyalist Avoniel pyre by council

People add to the 11th night bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre in Belfast, which councillors agreed not to attempt to dismantle. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

People add to the 11th night bonfire at Avoniel Leisure Centre in Belfast, which councillors agreed not to attempt to dismantle. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

 

Police have not held formal meetings with the UVF over the Avoniel bonfire, a senior commander said.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd was speaking amid claims officers engaged with the UVF leadership figures during the dispute.

The PSNI warned of the risk of gunfire if materials had been removed from the pyre by contractors appointed by Belfast City Council.

In a statement, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: “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.”

Concerns over threats and intimidation had hampered attempts to remove sinister graffiti linked to the row over the contentious loyalist bonfire.

The council abandoned an attempt to demolish the bonfire in east Belfast when hired private contractors pulled out of the job after threats were daubed on walls close to the site, purporting to identify them.

Days after some of those threats appeared, graffiti naming an individual remained on a wall close to the bonfire site at Avoniel leisure centre, which has since been removed.

The council has said safety concerns had prevented it completing the job prior to this week.

Police have accused the east Belfast UVF of mobilising and orchestrating its members to resist the bonfire’s removal. - PA