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Police investigate reports of bangs and ‘hate crime’ at nationalist bonfire

People gather at a nationalist bonfire in Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)
People gather at a nationalist bonfire in Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

Police are investigating a series of loud bangs which were heard at a nationalist bonfire in Londonderry, as well as potential “hate crime” in terms of items displayed on the pyre.

Inquiries are under way to establish whether shots were fired at the in the Bogside area of Derry at around 11.20pm on Monday.

The placing of items on the pyre, including political material, flags and poppy wreaths, is being investigated as a hate crime.

Superintendent Willy Calderwood said police received a third-party report about possible shots being heard in the area.

“Inquiries continue to establish exactly what occurred and to confirm if any shots were fired,” he said.

There was condemnation after the placing of poppy wreaths, flags and images on the bonfire.

Images of the Queen and a PSNI Land Rover were also displayed.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney tweeted his condemnation: “Whether in July or August, this kind of hatred is so far from the future we should be trying to build.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said it was an “outrageous and offensive display of hate”.

Derry’s Mayor Sandra Duffy (Sinn Fein) condemned the displays on the bonfires as “totally wrong”, adding “those responsible do not represent the people of Derry”.

“The burning of posters, wreaths, and election posters on bonfires in Derry last night was disgraceful and totally wrong,” she said.

“These displays of hate are not representative of the people of this city.

“Events of recent days in the city have been a setback after what has been a hugely positive summer for both Derry and Strabane.

“That is the real image of Derry, a city moving forward and focused on the future.”

Supt Calderwood said police received a number of reports around the material placed on the Bogside bonfire.

“These reports are being treated as hate crimes and we are seeking to identify those responsible,” he said.

“Potential offences include the theft and destruction of political material, flags, banners, hate slogans and poppy wreaths.

“As part of our enquiries, we have gathered and secured evidence of potential offending and we will engage with the Public Prosecution Service who will ultimately have responsibility for decisions in relation to prosecution.

“The vast majority of people celebrate their culture peacefully and lawfully, and do not want cultural celebrations to be undermined by anti-social behaviour, criminal activity or hate directed towards others.

“I’m appealing for anyone with any further information, but specifically information on those who may have been responsible for the potential offences to provide it to us to bring those responsible to justice.”

Bonfires are traditionally lit in nationalist areas of Londonderry on August 15.

The fires are associated with the August anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial during the Troubles, and also coincide with the Catholic Feast of the Assumption.

Republican and loyalist bonfires continue to be a source of controversy in Northern Ireland.

Bonfire builders from both communities have provoked anger in the past by burning symbols associated with the other’s culture.

No major pyres were lit in Belfast last week to mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment on August 9 1971.

Ulster bonfires
People gather at the burning of a bonfire to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption in the Bogside area of Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

This follows efforts which have been made over several years, including a large music concert as part of Feile An Phobail, to divert young people from bonfires.

In July, police announced they were looking into almost 60 potential offences reported as having taken place at loyalist bonfires to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

These reports include allegations of theft and destruction of political material, flags, hate slogans and effigies.

There was widespread condemnation after photographs emerged of hanging effigies of Sinn Fein president and vice-president Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill, as well as Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, on a bonfire in Carrickfergus.