PSNI police clubbed scores of nationalist pub-goers in Derry city centre on Saturday night in some of the worst street conflict seen in the city in years.

The PSNI have been attempting to impose greater control on the city centre area following increasing confrontations with republican youths in recent weeks.

Arriving in a number of armoured vehicles to the Shipquay Street area, riot police mounted a series of wild and seemingly random assaults.

Dozens of injuries were reported, with at least one victim requiring hospitalisation.

A BBC marquee in Guildhall Square was damaged in the fighting, which countinued until the early hours of Sunday morning.

There was widespread shock in the city at the scale of the aggression. A local taxi man who witnessed the disturbances said the PSNI went “totally overboard.”

The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, said nothing untoward was happening on a typical Saturday night until he noticed the PSNI putting on riot gear.

“I had been waiting there about ten minutes when I saw police pulling out their riot shields and so I got out of there, I moved up Shipquay Street and from there I saw the police moving in and they just started swinging their batons everywhere - not caring who they hit.”

The local man said that, although he heard subsequent reports about “young people running amok”, he saw no more damage “than you would have seen any other Saturday night.”

“If young people were, as police claimed, throwing paving slabs and bricks, then where were all these slabs and bricks afterwards?” he asked, “All I saw was police throwing their truncheons everywhere, hitting out randomly at all the young people.”

He went on: “I took three girls home afterwards, two of whom were crying the whole way home and another who was bruised right across the forearm and just as upset. I took a fella home, too, and he was obviously not a troublemaker. In fact, I’ve probably never seen anyone more innocent looking! But he had marks all over him from where the police had hit him with their truncheons. Basically, these were young people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“It was reminiscent of scenes you would have seen on William Street in the 1970s and 80s - people being literally beat off the streets for no reason at all. It was like the ‘Troubles all over again. From what I saw, it didn’t look as if the police had any real targets to arrest, it was absolutely random.

“At the end of the day, there was just no need for police to be there in riot gear - they went totally overboard, “ he added.

Sinn Fein has called for the Police Ombudsman to mount an investigation into the PSNI’s actions.

Local assembly member Martina Anderson said her party has been contacted by parents who said the PSNI had brutally assaulted their children.

While her party backs the PSNI, Ms Anderson said that she “would not condone excessive force by the PSNI”.

One eyewitness told the ‘Journal’ that “all of a sudden police moved in and they just started swinging their batons everywhere, not caring who they hit.” He added: “I saw police throwing their truncheons everywhere, hitting out randomly at all the young people.”

Also caught up in the disturbances was ‘Journal’ reporter Julieann Campbell who was hit on the arm by a police baton.

“It just looked like any normal Saturday night,” said ‘Derry Journal’ reporter Julieann Campbell, who was herself struck on the arm by a PSNI baton.

“All of a sudden, however, a line of police in riot gear started advancing really quickly down towards Shipquay Gate. I was standing at the bottom of the street looking for my brother when a policeman whacked me with a baton on the hand to move me on.

“At no time did I see any vandals or troublemakers, I just saw police pushing and beating people back. It was really scary.”

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© 2007 Irish Republican News