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Family of murdered RAF war hero say poppy has been 'sectarianised'

Maud Evans (80) whose uncle, RAF hero John Lovett, died in a UDA attack on a bookmakers shop. Picture by Hugh Russell.

THE elderly niece of a war hero murdered in a UDA gun attack 25 years ago has hit out at loyalists for "denigrating" the poppy by using it in a memorial to honour his sectarian killer.

Decorated RAF man John Lovett was fatally injured in a shooting at James Murray's betting shop on the Oldpark Road in north Belfast on November 14, 1992.

Maud Evans (80) says she still struggles with the memory of her much loved uncle's killing as the anniversary approaches.

But she says poppy tributes at a mural to UDA killer Stephen "Top Gun" McKeag are hugely offence and would have members of her family - who served in both world wars - 'spinning in their graves'.

Two other men, father-of-four Francis Burns (62) and Peter Orderly (50) also died in the 1992 gun attack carried out by members of Johnny Adair's Shankill 'C' Company.

Customers inside the shop were watching horse racing when two men got out of a hijacked taxi; one sprayed the shop with automatic gunfire before a Soviet-made fragmentation grenade was tossed inside.

A number of people also suffered life changing injuries in the attack.

The gunman was believed to be McKeag, the prolific loyalist UDA killer thought to have been responsible for more than 20 sectarian murders.

He died of a drugs overdose in his north Belfast home in September 2000.

A mural honouring the loyalist killer in the lower Shankill area is adorned with a poppy, a symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers.

Speaking yesterday from her home in north Belfast Ms Evans, said she still deeply missed her uncle who she described as "the heart" of their family.

The RAF veteran survived the Battle of Britain in 1940 and served in India and Burma before working as a civilian employee for the Minstry of Defence and later the Housing Executive until he retired.

"Uncle John's death affected us all so badly, as it's coming up to the 25th anniversary I've been thinking about him a lot," she said.

"His niece Nora was one of the first on the scene the day of the attack. She suffered awfully with flashbacks for years afterwards.

"He was loved by us all, right down to the great nieces, he was full of mischief and always joking and he was our fixer in chief. If anything broke or needed repaired John was there to sort it out.

"He didn't really drink so I think the bookies was his social life. It's where he went to catch up with his friends and chat about things."

Recalling hearing how her uncle had been among the victims of the attack she said she had hoped his injuries would not be fatal.

"When I arrived he was on his way to theatre. We all waited there in the hospital until he died in the early hours...he put up a good fight.

"It was such a brutal attack. Someone said afterwards 'they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time', but they weren't, they were exactly where they should have been, those who killed them, they were in the wrong place.

"John and the other two men who died that day were good people with families who loved them and miss them every day."

Ms Evans said the use of the poppy to commemorate killers like McKeag "debases it".

"It has been sectarianised," she said.

"My father was also a serviceman. He would spin in his grave if he could see how it is being abused today."

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