Northern Ireland news

Ex-RUC band piper had 'no idea' she was booked for Martin McElkerney's INLA funeral

Piper Lee Lawson said she had no idea she would be leading the funeral of former INLA man Martin McElkerney. Picture by Mal McCann

A FORMER piper with the RUC band who led the funeral of former INLA prisoner Martin McElkerney has contacted police over online abuse.

Lee Lawson, an ex-member of the RUC Pipes and Drums Band, led McElkerney's funeral procession in west Belfast last week.

She said she had no idea that the funeral she had been booked to take part in would include paramilitary trappings - or that it would be linked to a show of strength by masked men.

The 57-year-old republican died in hospital after shooting himself in the head at Milltown cemetery earlier this month.

Ms Lawson, a professional musician who lives in Co Down, told the Sunday Life that she had been booked to play at the funeral by an undertaker and only knew it was a for a man called Martin who had taken his own life.

Lee Lawson leading the funeral of INLA man Martin McElkerney. Picture by Mal McCann

She said when she arrived at the wake house she was too afraid to refuse to play.

Ms Lawson later contacted police over abuse she had received online following the funeral.

"The police were out at my house on Friday night because of the abuse I was getting," she said.

"It's because I was in the RUC band.

"They (police) have told me that if I had refused to play I would have put myself in more danger."

Ms Lawson said she only realised McElkerney had been involved in the INLA when she arrived at his wake house.

Martin McElkerney was found critically injured in Milltown Cemetery and died later in hospita;

"I didn't know who he was as I don't normally watch the news," she said.

"I didn't know anything about what happened on the Monday night (when a masked man fired a volley of shots as McElkerney's remains were returned to his home)."

"They brought the coffin out of the house and I asked them do you want me at the front or behind it, and I was told to go to the front.

"I turned around and saw these guys with masks and sunglasses. I got the shock of my life.

"My mum had taken me there in the car and she had to drive behind. She was terrified, it was very intimidating."

McElkerney was sentenced to three life terms for his part in an INLA bomb that killed Kevin Valliday (11), Stephen Bennett (14) and Lance Bombardier Kevin Waller (20) at the Divis Flats complex in west Belfast in 1982.

Meanwhile, a 35-year-old man arrested in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, by police investigating the volley of shots ahead of McElkerney's funeral has been released unconditionally.

The man had been arrested under the Terrorism Act.

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