Thousands may face flag row charges
Thousands more people could face police action for criminal behaviour linked to the Union flag protests in Northern Ireland, a senior detective has warned.
Police have pledged to hunt down those responsible as it emerged that commanders are in discussions with the body that adjudicates on contentious parades in the region to establish if it can make a ruling on a mass flag demonstration that has been taking place in Belfast on recent Saturdays.
If the Parades Commission considers that the loyalist event falls within its remit, it could issue a determination that would limit its route.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has also revealed that two senior detectives from the Metropolitan Police who led the investigation into the London riots in 2011 have been called in to advise the 70-strong PSNI inquiry team dealing with the ongoing situation.
Since the controversy erupted in early December - when Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days to flag flies over City Hall - 174 people have been arrested and 124 have been charged. A total of 127 police officers have been injured in rioting linked to the dispute.
Detective Superintendent Sean Wright, who is leading the investigation, predicted that many more people would come before the courts as his team turned to the task of examining footage taken at scenes of disorder.
"What I can say quite clearly is we have hundreds of hours of evidence gathered and CCTV coverage that we have yet to process and we are in the process of working through that, and I would expect that we will have many arrests to come," he said.
He said action would be taken not only against those who have been involved in rioting but also those who have been blocking roads.
"Blocking the road is a criminal act," he said. "If you are obstructing the highway we will be investigating that.
"If you want to attack police, if you want to throw petrol bombs at them, if you want to throw fireworks at them - those are criminal acts. My team will investigate all of those and through our work with the Public Prosecution Service and through the various mechanisms we have for disposing of the different cases, we will come to some arrangement whereby as many people as possible feel and understand the consequences of their actions."