Bryson ‘on the run’ after abortive PSNI arrest
Jamie Bryson, one of the key organisers of the recent flag “protests”, is being described as on the run tonight after the PSNI police said they were seeking to question him.
While another prominent flag protestor, Willie Frazer, was brought in for questioning this morning, Bryson was not present when the PSNI arrived at his home this morning.
Bryson and Frazer are leading figures in the Ulster People’s Forum (UPF), an extreme loyalist organisation said to have links to the paramilitary UVF.
The situation presents a major embarrassment for the PSNI, who had briefed journalists that both men were being brought in for questioning in connection with public order offences. While Frazer is under arrest, Bryson’s location is unknown.
Hours after the PSNI admitted they were looking for him, Bryson released a video of himself mocking the force and declaring himself a victim of ‘political policing’.
The situation represents a turnaround in the official approach to the costly loyalist disturbances, which saw widespread violence across the North over the winter months. The centre of the trouble was in Belfast, where several main arterial roads were routinely and illegally blocked by small groups of loyalists, bringing the city to a halt over the Christmas period.
Every Saturday since December, a flag-waving loyalist mob have also marched to Belfast City Hall. The council’s decision to reduce the flying of the Union Jack over the building ignited the protests in early December and remains the central grievance in the UPF campaign.
The Belfast marches often involved masked UVF paramilitaries and some resulted in hand-to-hand clashes and heavy rioting as they passed the nationalist Short Strand enclave in the east of the city.
Last month, after intense criticism of its failure to intervene, the PSNI finally moved against the loyalists’ roadblocks. And this week, after coming under pressure from the Parades Commission, the PSNI finally admitted that the weekly Belfast city parades are illegal.
Since 1998, marches and parades must be approved by the Parades Commission, although their adjudications have been increasingly ignored by marchers and police in recent years.
Parades Commission chairman Peter Osborne said yesterday that responsibility for dealing with the Saturday marches rests with the PSNI, not them.
“If a parade is not notified, the legal advice we have is very straight, if it’s not notified it is an unlawful procession and it is then a policing matter to manage under public order,” he said.
Yesterday, Sinn FFeineacute;in questioned why no action had been taken against the march organisers. Loyalists tonight portrayed the arrest of Frazer and pursuit of Bryson as the PSNI ‘caving in’ to nationalist demands.
Interviewed by UTV news this evening, Bryson insisted he would not hand himself in for questioning. He insisted he had nothing wrong.
“I have not committed any crimes. All I have done is exercise my right to peaceful and democratic protest - I’ve not been involved in any rioting or any violence,” he said.
“[Sinn FFeineacute;in policing spokesperson] Gerry Kelly met [PSNI chief] Matt Baggott last night and he asked him to arrest people. He said that on his Twitter. Then this morning, the police tried to arrest me and Willie.”
Bryson said that he does not recognise the Parades Commission’s authority.
“I don’t recognise the Parades Commission, so I wouldn’t be notifying them of anything anyway. I view it as civil disobedience,” he said.
“Martin Luther King was technically breaking the law, but he had to stand up for what he believed in, for his rights and for his country, and people don’t view him as a criminal.”