A "bureaucratic blunder" has led to loyalists accused of involvement in some of the worst rioting of recent years escaping prosecution, The Irish News has learned.
The cases relate to disturbances surrounding a controversial Orange Order parade along the Whiterock Road in west Belfast last September.
The PSNI last night (Friday) confirmed that 13 files connected to the rioting, sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), had been withdrawn.
The prosecutions were dropped because of a failure to obtain an extension to allow police more time to bring people before the courts.
The disturbances were some of the worst witnessed in Belfast in many years, with policing alone costing £3 million in addition to millions of pounds of damage caused to properties across the city.
However, the exact number of loyalists who have escaped prosecution is unclear.
A PSNI spokeswoman was unable to confirm how many people were involved in the 13 cases.
A source close to the West Belfast District Policing Partnership Board claimed the files related to around 200 people but this figure was rejected by the PSNI.
The PPS is understood to have accepted responsibility for the 13 cases but voiced concern that the PSNI had only submitted files seven days before the six-month timeframe elapsed.
The mix-up is understood to have led to the introduction of new guidelines which mean the PSNI has to submit prosecution files to the PPS 20 days in advance of any requirement for a court extension.
This is the second time charges against Whiterock Orangemen have been dropped due to a bureaucratic bungle.
In October 2003, charges were recommended against a senior west Belfast Orangeman after paramilitary flags were carried during the parade.
However, that case collapsed after it emerged the PSNI had not obtained an extension to bring the individual before the court.
The news comes just days after 23 nationalists appeared in court charged with rioting in Ardoyne in north Belfast last July 12.
Sinn Féin assembly member Gerry Kelly said nationalists would view the failure to prosecute with scepticism.
"They will contrast it with the number of nationalists appearing in court in connection with what happened in Ardoyne last July," he said.
"This is the second time that loyalists involved in the Whiterock parade have escaped prosecution.
"There appears to be one law for nationalists and another for loyalists."
SDLP assembly member Alban Maginness also expressed concern over the failed cases.
"There appears to have been a serious bureaucratic blunder on behalf of the PPS and the PSNI," he said.
"It may well be that the PPS was faced with an impossible timescale to try and operate in.
"The reality is that people strongly suspected of involvement in serious offences have escaped justice."