Northern Ireland news

Police probe Bangor UDA mural launch after Dee Stitt poses with masked men

Dee Stitt, centre, addresses supporters at a mural for murdered UDA man Tommy Herron
Brendan Hughes

POLICE are examining images from the launch of a UDA mural in which masked men posed with leading loyalist Dee Stitt.

The alleged UDA commander posted a photo online of himself speaking in front of the mural in Bangor while flanked by two masked men wearing paramilitary-style uniforms.

The mural in the Kilcooley estate commemorates murdered UDA man Tommy Herron who was shot dead during an internal dispute in 1973.

Politicians condemned the paramilitary displays, which also prompted an exchange online between DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill.

Superintendent Brian Kee, the PSNI's Ards and North Down District Commander, said police are "making enquiries to establish if any offences have occurred".

"We are aware of an event in the Kilcooley area on Friday evening and are making enquiries to establish if any offences have occurred. Should we detect any offences, we will investigate," he said in a statement.

Stitt, who has previously denied claims he is a UDA commander, said the formal launch involved some of Herron's family and described it as a "proud day".

Posting images on Twitter on Friday, he wrote: "Our unionist history will never be rewritten or taken from us. Quis Separabit."

Sinn Féin's Ms O'Neill tweeted: "Waiting to hear all the condemnation from political unionism on Dee Stitt posing with masked UDA figures."

Responding to Ms O'Neill, the DUP's Mrs Foster said: "No problem condemning all terrorism. No-one is above the law and all equally subject to the law."

Stitt, a convicted gunman, was chief executive of the charity Charter NI when in 2016 it was controversially picked to manage a £1.7 million investment in east Belfast despite the organisation's UDA links.

Mrs Foster was pictured with Stitt as the contentious Social Investment Fund (SIF) scheme was announced, but the DUP leader dismissed criticism and insisted the employability project was a "very good programme".

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry expressed concern over the images of the mural launch.

"It's time the paramilitaries got off the backs of the people of Kilcooley, and all other areas of Northern Ireland," he said.

"The PSNI must urgently investigate this incident to determine if offences regarding the glorification of terrorism have occurred."

Stitt last night took to Twitter to defend the displays.

He said the masked men were "dressed in period uniforms from pre-1992" which were "on loan" from a historical organisation.

"The mural launch and the all content from the day was given to the local PSNI inspector," he tweeted.

"No guns, no volley of shots. Just a dignified ceremony with his family and friends."

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