John Dallat '˜drove against flow' of Kilrea parade
Two wildly different accounts have emerged of an incident in which a politician claimed he was set upon by a mob at a band parade in Co Londonderry.
SDLP MLA John Dallat said he was “cornered like an animal” after a crowd surrounded his car, banged on the roof and took pictures of him through the windows during a 10-minute ordeal in Kilrea.
Mr Dallat said he phoned 999 and police came to his aid during the incident on Maghera Street on Friday night.
But that account has been heavily contradicted by the Ulster Band’s Forum, who accused Mr Dallat of attempting to stoke up sectarian tensions ahead of the Twelfth of July.
And the body has said it is now in the process of gathering multiple eyewitness statements, with the intention of presenting them to the PSNI and the Parades Commission.
Explaining his version of events, Mr Dallat told the News Letter: “I drove into the town to pick up a Chinese takeaway. I collected it, returned to my car and sat there for 10 minutes waiting for an opportunity to move between the bands.
“After I moved onto the road, my car was surrounded by men and women, aged between 25-45, who were taking pictures through the windows and banging on the roof. That lasted for about 10 minutes.
“I believed my life was in danger and called the police, who came and got me to the end of the street safely.”
But the Ulster Band’s Forum administrator, Valerie Quinn said an attack could not have taken place during the time frame put forward by Mr Dallat.
She told the News Letter: “One of the parade marshals watched Mr Dallat come out of the Chinese, sit in his car for a short time and then pull out into Maghera Street, against the flow of the parade.
“Mr Dallat then stopped his car in the road, causing an obstruction to oncoming bands.
“The marshall again spoke to police about this and Mr Dallat was asked by an officer to pull off the parade route and into the Market Yard.
“He claimed the attack happened at some point between him leaving the Chinese and pulling into Market Yard. But he was in full view of the marshall and several eyewitnesses.
“There was a low number of spectators at the parade and most of them were middle aged. No one approached his car and they certainly didn’t surround it.”
Ms Quinn also said a number of witnesses have expressed concerns about the speed Mr Dallat’s car was travelling on Maghera Street.
However, Mr Dallat said he was “grossly insulted” by the accusation that he had “made up” the incident, adding: “I have no interest in stirring up tensions in Kilrea, where I have lived my whole life.”
The MLA described remarks posted on social media in the wake of the parade as “reprehensible” .
He added: “People have been saying very offensive things about me on Facebook and have even posted pictures of my car showing the registration number.
“This has only added to the distress caused to me and I will be raising this with police.
“It is no way to treat a public representative.”
The News Letter asked Mr Dallat why he had not called for arrests to be made on Friday.
In response, Mr Dallat said: “It would have been impossible for police to do that given the crowds that were present at the parade.
“It is my hope that CCTV footage will be recovered so that this can all be put to bed and I can be vindicated.”
The East Londonderry MLA has said he now intends to lodge a formal complaint with the PSNI over the alleged attack.
When asked for more detail regarding the incident, a PSNI spokesperson said: “Inquiries into the matter are ongoing at present and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
The PSNI’s original statement, which was issued on Saturday said: “Police received reports of a concern for safety from a 70-year-old male at 8:50 pm on Friday in the Main Street area of Kilrea.
“Police were in the vicinity at the time due to a band parade taking place and were able to assist in resolving the incident.”