East Belfast bonfire site evacuated due to 'suspicious object'

The site of a contentious bonfire in east Belfast was evacuated on Thursday after police received a report that a suspicious object was left in the area.

The incident happened shortly after 4pm at the Avoniel Leisure Centre car park.

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson said he was also informed by the PSNI that a threat has been made against his life.

The bomb threat was made after Belfast City Council decided not to move in to remove the bonfire, as they could not find a contractor to carry out the work.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Jamie Bryson said: “Police came in and advised loyalists they had received information that a bomb had been left on the site by republican elements.

“Police, along with loyalists, acted quickly to clear the area and ensure everyone’s safety. They also informed me that republicans have made a threat against my life.

“The PSNI acted swiftly and came in with dogs and after a search, nothing untoward was found.

“We loyalists won’t be cowed into provocation by anyone, we’re just here trying to have a good night and that’s what’s going to happen. We won’t let anyone stand in our way.”

A PSNI spokesperson said: “Police carried out a search after information was received that suggested a suspicious object may have been left in the area. Nothing was found.”

On Wednesday, contractors hired to remove the bonfire, which is on council property, pulled out after threatening graffiti appeared near the leisure centre.

The council struggled to find another firm to carry out the work after police warned of UVF violence if there was an attempt to remove the bonfire.

PSNI assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton said: “The intelligence picture indicates that any attempt by the council to remove bonfire material will cause a severe violent confrontation, orchestrated by the UVF.

“The use of firearms during such disorder cannot be ruled out.”

On Thursday morning council representatives attended the scene of the bonfire and formally asked the bonfire builders to leave the site.

Bonfire builders were told those on the leisure centre site were involved in aggravated trespassing.

Sinn Fein’s Ciaran Beattie said that council held firm in its belief that the bonfire was illegal.

“It’s disappointing that the contractors have been threatened and the threat has came through to the council, from the police, to say the east Belfast UVF have threatened contractors and possibly with the use of firearms which is a very worrying situation,” he said.

“This bonfire is illegal, it’s a council leisure facility. It’s been occupied, the gates have been barricaded, there’s been UVF flags put up around the site, a bonfire has been put in the car park without permission.”

Robert Girvin, from the East Belfast Cultural Collective rejected a suggestion of UVF involvement in the bonfire.

“It is controlled by the grannies, the mothers, the sisters, the children, the people of the local community,” he said.

“That’s who controls this, that’s who organises it and that’s who wants it. No one wants violence.”

Police have said they will have an “evidence gathering operation” in place around the bonfire on Thursday night to see if any offences are committed.

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