Northern Ireland

Gerry Kelly: MLA interviewed by police over car clamp

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Media captionSinn Féin's Gerry Kelly was filmed removing a car clamp

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly has been interviewed by police for alleged criminal damage after he was filmed removing a clamp from his car.

The North Belfast MLA was recorded using what appears to be bolt cutters to remove the clamp on Friday.

In a tweet on Sunday evening, Mr Kelly said: "No one can be above the law." He said he had made a "voluntary arrangement" to talk to police.

Footage of the incident was posted on social media.

His actions were criticised by other political parties.

In his tweet, Mr Kelly said he wanted to resolve the matter "as soon as possible".

Earlier, police confirmed they had interviewed a 64-year-old man at Musgrave Park police station in relation to an allegation of criminal damage at Exchange Street in Belfast on Friday.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said this was a "significant test for the Sinn Féin leadership".

On Saturday, Sinn Féin said the matter was being dealt with by Mr Kelly's solicitor.

Image caption Sinn Féin said Mr Kelly removed the clamp "after an early morning gym session"

The incident happened near the Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC).

The clamp was fitted by a private company called Parking and Enforcement Agency (PEA).

Its spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph: "PEA is aware of this incident and has reported the matter to the PSNI as we do in all such cases."

Mr Kelly is also Sinn Féin's policing spokesperson.

He is also a former member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, which holds the PSNI to account.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Footage of the incident was posted on social media

Mr Dodds, DUP, asked: "Will Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald or Michelle O'Neill finally take action when we have their policing spokesperson act like this?

"Nobody's holding their breath."


Clamping in Northern Ireland

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) is responsible for the enforcement of most parking restrictions.

Clamping and removal are used when parking tickets have not been paid.

But the department has no responsibility when it comes to private land, such as a retail park, hospital or supermarket.

Landowners can set their own rules and hire firms to police their parking restrictions.

When it comes to clamping and towing on private land, Northern Ireland is out on its own.

The Protection of Freedoms Act outlawed the practice in England and Wales in 2012. It has been banned in Scotland since 1992.

But in Gerry Kelly's case, there is another law at play - the Criminal Damage (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, which means you cannot damage other people's property "without lawful excuse".

Clamping and criminal damage has been tested in the courts elsewhere.

In 1991, a motorist in England was found guilty of causing criminal damage to property after he forcibly removed a clamp from his car in a private car park.

His defence was that he had a lawful excuse for cutting the padlocks in that wheel-clamping was a trespass to his car, and under the principle of the "recaption of goods" he was entitled to recover his car.

However, a year later, a Scottish appeal court called clamping "extortion and theft".

"The act of depriving the motorist of the use of his car by detaining it against his will can accurately be described as stealing something from him," one of the judges said.


Mr Dodds said that Sinn Féin "preach" respect and equality, but this incident suggested otherwise.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, who will take over the party leadership next weekend, said she did not know enough about the incident to comment.

Speaking to RTÉ on Sunday morning, she said: "Gerry's solicitors are currently dealing with the issue of the clamping.

"I have to tell you that I don't have the detail on it and we'll have to see what flows from that, but I'm reluctant to comment any further because I don't have the facts of exactly what happened.

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Mary Lou McDonald said she did not know enough about the incident to comment

"I'm only in a position to say that his solicitors are dealing with the issue, as they should," she added.

'Ironic'

The leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party, Jim Allister, criticised Mr Kelly on BBC Radio Ulster.

"He, who sat in the Policing Board, pontificating about law and order issues, should now think that he can take the law into his own hands and behave in this manner needs to be called to account.

"Not just in respect of the criminal law, in regard to criminal damage, but in respect of public representation, by being removed as a public representative."

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Mr Kelly's car was in a "no parking" area

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said Mr Kelly had set "an appalling example" and should "do the decent thing and resign".

"Parking in a no-parking area, which reserves access for deliveries and emergencies, then damaging private property.

"What if everyone ignored yellow lines?

"Is Gerry special, above the rules that apply to you and me?"

Mr Beggs added: "If this was to happen in any other part of the United Kingdom or indeed the Republic, the relevant politician would be gone."

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said Mr Kelly's actions were "ironic" given that he was Sinn Féin's spokesperson on justice issues.

"This is the sort of stuff that reflects very much on the behaviour of MLAs and I would very much like the assembly back up and running this week so that this could be looked at as an internal matter in terms of his conduct as a public representative."

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