Northern Ireland news

UUP election candidate 'willing to meet Loughinisland families' after suspect pictured helping put up election posters

Ronald Hawthorn pictured helping to put up UUP election posters

UUP leader Robin Swann has said a council candidate is willing to meet relatives of the Loughinisland victims after a suspect in the loyalist atrocity was pictured helping put up his election posters.

Alan Lewis, a former Ukip member who is running as an Ulster Unionist in Thursday's local government elections, said last week he did "not wish to comment" on the photograph of Ronnie Hawthorn erecting his posters close to the Co Down village.

Hawthorn was named in the acclaimed film No Stone Unturned as a suspected member of the UVF gang said to have been responsible for the attack on the Heights Bar in 1994.

Six men, including 87-year-old Barney Green, were shot dead while watching a Ireland play Italy in a World Cup match.

Barman Aidan O'Toole, who suffered serious injuries in the attack, asked to meet with Mr Lewis, who is a candidate in the Slieve Croob area of Newry, Mourne and Down council.

Mr Swann was quizzed yesterday about the photograph as he launched the UUP's local government election manifesto.

Read more: Loughinisland suspect pictured helping to erect UUP election posters

The North Antrim MLA described the Loughinisland killings as a "despicable crime" and an "evil act of terrorism".

He said the families of those murdered and injured deserved justice.

"I believe there was an ask for Alan Lewis to meet the families – Alan's prepared to do that," the UUP leader added.

He went on to point out that nobody had been charged or convicted in relation to the murders.

"In this country people still believe they are innocent until proven guilty," he said to loud applause from an audience of party members and elected representatives.

Ulster Unionist candidate Alan Lewis

Last night Mr O'Toole said he had not heard of any approach from Mr Lewis, which he expected to come through the families' solicitor Niall Murphy.

Mr Murphy also said he was unaware of any approach.

Mr O'Toole said he wanted Mr Lewis to "explain his actions" and looked forward to speaking to him.

"Coming quite soon after the film I believe this was provocative and insensitive," he said.

Hawthorn has previously described the the allegations in No Stone Unturned as "unfounded" and said it represented "a speculative, reckless, and irresponsible attempt at an expose, which now is the subject of a police investigation".

Two journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, were arrested by police in relation to documents used in the making of the film, which named a number of suspects including Hawthorn.

Read more: Loughinisland suspect pictured helping to erect UUP election posters

Aidan O'Toole was injured in the Loughinisland massacre. Picture by Matt Bohill

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