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12 December 2002 Edition

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Barefaced liars : PSNI forced to admit mob attack never happened

The PSNI in Lurgan has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown by a Sinn Féin councillor, admitting that its claims of an attack by a several hundred-strong mob on Lurgan PSNI barracks on All-Ireland Sunday were "incorrect".

"By fabricating a story which claimed there had been an orchestrated attack by nationalists on the barracks, the PSNI effectively intervened to cover up sectarian violence in which nationalist fans returning from the All-Ireland final in September were targeted," Lurgan Sinn Féin councillor John O'Dowd told An Phoblacht.

"The PSNI have been caught red handed telling lies surrounding claims that several hundred people attacked the heavily fortified barracks after Armagh's All-Ireland football final victory," he said.

In a letter of apology to O'Dowd, Detective Chief Inspector Meadow admitted that the claim of "several hundred people attacking the station was incorrect". He claimed that while there was a crowd outside the barracks, "approximately 10-12 caused the damage to the CCTV and fencing".

At the time, the PSNI told newsrooms that a crowd of around 500 people had attacked Lurgan barracks, removing two security cameras and erecting several Tricolours on the night of Sunday 22 September. They also claimed that one PSNI member was injured and a petrol bomb was thrown.

"We had a situation where the PSNI pumped the media with this story of an onslaught against Lurgan Barracks by Armagh supporters, despite eyewitness accounts to the contrary," said O'Dowd. "While PSNI press releases concentrated on an attack only they knew about, they conveniently failed to mention the litany of attacks by loyalists on Armagh fans."

Loyalists attacked Armagh supporters' cars as they returned to Armagh County after their success in the Final. Sixteen-year-old Michael Shine suffered serious facial injuries which required 100 stitches after his parents' car was attacked by loyalists with bottles.

"I said at the time there was no rioting in Lurgan, but the media gave these lies extensive coverage, and I think the PSNI should apologise to the people of Lurgan," said O'Dowd.

Questions have to be asked why these press releases were sent out in the first place, who ordered them to be released and why heavily clad riot police were already on standby.

O'Dowd told An Phoblacht he had complained to the Police Ombudsman's office at the time and will now be contacting them again to find what disciplinary action will be taken against those PSNI members involved.

"The media have to take their share of the blame for giving these lies prominence in their news broadcasts before checking out the correct facts," he added. "They should approach PSNI press releases with extreme caution in the future, and not be drawn into giving coverage to these barefaced lies and misinformation."
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