Co Derry Orange Hall flag thefts treated as ‘hate crime' by PSNI
POLICE are treating the theft of flags from a Co Derry Orange hall as a hate crime.
Two Union and Somme remembrance flags as well as flag poles were removed from Ballyneal Orange Hall near Magherafelt early on Saturday morning.
The Orange Order said it happened just hours after the flags were erected at the Brookmount Road property.
A spokesman said: "Due to its rural and isolated location, Ballyneal hall would be regarded as an easy target for the intolerant culprits wishing to engage in such low life criminality. Nonetheless, this does not excuse their misdemeanours under the cover of darkness.
"Any form of disrespect for the Union flag is appalling and must be condemned. However, it is abhorrent that a flag commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, recognising the loss of all who paid the supreme sacrifice - regardless of background, colour or creed - should be treated with such disdain. Those responsible ought to be utterly ashamed of their actions."
There have been 13 attacks on Orange Halls so far this year, according to the Orange Order.
In May paint and graffiti was daubed on two Orange Halls in Banbridge while another hall at Muckery in Co Armagh was targeted by arsonists.
There was also a failed arson bid at Ballyneal Orange Hall last month.
DUP MLA Keith Buchanan described the theft as "disgraceful".
He said: "This is clearly a hate crime motivated by sectarianism and unfortunately follows a number of similar attacks to halls across the province.
"Over this weekend people have been marking the service and sacrifice of those from all traditions who fought at the Battle of the Somme.
"It is particularly disgraceful therefore that a Somme remembrance flag was one of those ripped down in this attack."
The PSNI has appealed for anyone with information or who saw suspicious activity to contact police in Magherafelt on 101, quoting reference 1356 02/07/16.