Cameraman based in Edinburgh, employed by ITN, working for ITV's Good Morning Britain covering stories all over the UK and the world. War Zones, World Cups, Royal Tours and many other less exciting assignments, like interviewing current and ex Prime Ministers have kept me busy over the years working in Breakfast Television since GMTV came on the scene back in '93 and regional TV before that. In 2009 I began to record what it is like to work, the often strange and long hours needed to bring the hard news, human interest and fluffy fun to the UK's TV screens in the morning, mostly broadcasting live.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Belfast Riots

Monday 7th January

I arrived at a rainy  Belfast's George Best airport late yesterday evening.  
Airport in the rain
It was just after lunchtime Sunday when the relaxing weekend came to and early end. 

There had been more violent protests on Saturday night over the Union Flag not being flown over Belfast City Hall every day. Loads of things had been thrown, policemen had been injured and lots of arrests made, one for a guy carrying a gun. 

When I found out which airline I was flying over with I prepared my company credit card for the huge hit I was sure that it would take. 

The check-in and ticket desk at Flybe did not disappoint.

I was slammed with a crazy excess baggage bill  for the two extra bags that I was taking on the 40 minute flight. 

Sometimes spending company cash is quite fun but, when it is just a flagrant fleecing it is beyond humorous. 

Richard also had a little flight trouble. In his case though, it was simply a bit of a delay. 

There had been a bit of bother during the night between police and protesters in east Belfast.
Our colleagues from UTV were out covering the events. If things had really kicked off again we would have been dragged out of our beds that we were not really going to be in for very long anyway. 

Thankfully we got almost a full five or so hours under the duvets.

I met Richard in reception in the wet early hours for the very short trip to UTV. 

I set up on the roof for our live broadcasts in the Daybreak news bulletins. 

The UTV staff were just getting used to coping with the very early mornings doing the local Daybreak bulletins after a long break. For quite a few years other companies had been doing them, the most recent one loosing the contract to UTV at the end of last year.  
Richard prepares his script amongst the racks of electronics
The UTV gallery preparing for the Daybreak bulletins..
..from the small green screen news studio..

..what the newsreader sees

On the dark, wet but, thankfully not windy roof we did our broadcasts whilst just below us the small UTV team of four did their bulletins. 
Rainy rooftop camera position
When we finished we went into the city centre to have a bit of a reconnoitre of the area around the City Hall where the planned protest would take place.  
Belfast City Hall bereft of Union Flag
We checked out possible vantage points and escape routes if it, as predicted, turned nasty.

Then it was time for breakfast. 

We had a bit of down time before the night's work. 

There was a protest planned at the City Hall because this would be the first full council meeting since the decision had been taken to only fly the Union Flag on certain days and not  every day.

It was pretty much assured given what has gone before in the previous few days that there would a bit of trouble. So, with this in mind it was with an extra pair of eyes to watch our back and lots of local knowledge that three of us went down to see what would happen.

As we arrived at the City Hall a very small group had gathered sporting Union flag in some fashion, as umbrellas, wrapped round them or just waving them.

It all appeared rather sad until we looked down the road to our right. In the distance large Union flags were being waved by a much bigger group marching up towards us. As they approached the sound of the loyalist songs they were singing got louder.
The protest in front of City Hall
The majority were relatively young men faces swathed in scarves with hoods up. There was also a fair cross section of members of the community.

They made a very vocal protest, getting to the point of giving the gates of the City Hall a good rattling. They marched around the perimeter of being shadowed by a large contingent of police who were inside.

When they got to a solid line of white police Land Rovers barring their way to the back of the building they were once more vocal in expressing their feelings.
One of lines of Land Rovers outside the City Hall
The water cannon would see action later
Filming the police getting geared up to go
The crowd at the police line outside City Hall
Along with the BBC, Sky News, ITN and UTV I filmed the action and Richard did a couple of interviews with the few people willing to be seen on camera.

There were of course the usual accusations that we did not relate the truth or the whole story.

The group of around four to five hundred then split up into two smaller groups and started to filter away.

We got in the car and headed for Short Strand where one of these groups would be passing by a Republican area on their way home.

We were hopeful that things might not be too bad. Soon, though, the sirens and blue lights from a stream of the PSNI's white Land Rovers quashed those thoughts.

When we arrived at the Short Strand area after having to take a circuitous route to get there it was clear that there was going to be a bit of bother.

In our separate little groups of three or four we TV crews, now joined by CH4 and the stills photographers slowly followed behind the line of Land Rovers and a water cannon truck as they tried to get the protesters past the nationalist section and into their own area.
Burning barricades 
We filmed through the gaps between the vehicles as the crowd threw bits of rubble, bottles and petrol bombs at the police. We heard and I recorded the crack of baton rounds being fired at the crowd.

Richard did a piece to camera that coincided with the heaviest salvo of petrol bombs, one landing on the front of a Land Rover.
Flaming debris litters the road
All the time we were getting deeper and deeper into loyalist territory with as many people behind us as in front. There was a little moment of concern when we were sandwiched with the police between two large groups. 

As things started to dissipate there were a few arrests some of which I got on camera and then a bit of a discussion between some of the local community leaders and the police.

Things were calmer, we headed back down the road to the car. As we passed little groups they shouted at us, sometimes not very pleasantly.

There is always one bit of humour though, when at the end of a particularly sustained tirade by one guy he ended it by saying, "could I borrow your helmet?"

Back at the hotel we had dome food whilst the material was ingested into our macs and then retired upstairs to edit in Richard's room.

Richard edited the main report and I cut the short pieces that would be used for teases, title sequences and over the news reader's voice.

I also got some of the photographs that Richard had taken. I'd been a bit busy to get my stills camera out.
Editing late into the night

We had it all cut and sent to London by 1:30 am. Time for about three hours sleep before going live from the UTV roof again in the morning.

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