Northern Ireland news

Police had prior notice of UDA mural launch in Bangor

Dee Stitt unveils a mural for murdered UDA man Tommy Herron alongside masked men
Brendan Hughes

POLICE have confirmed they had prior notice of a UDA mural launch and engaged in advance with organisers.

The event in Bangor last week sparked criticism after images showed alleged UDA commander Dee Stitt flanked by two masked men wearing paramilitary-style uniforms.

Police say they are continuing to make enquiries "to establish if any offences have occurred".

However, it has since emerged officers had advance notice that the event was taking place.

In a statement, Superintendent Brian Kee said: "Police were aware of the event in advance and engagement took place with the organisers in order to seek assurances, in particular, that there would be no unnotified parade.

"Police were present in the area when the event occurred."

The Ards and North Down district commander added: "Our enquiries are continuing to establish if any offences have occurred.

"Should we detect any offences, a police investigation will be carried out."

It's understood some local elected representatives have been told police were unaware the event would involve paramilitary uniforms.

Launched on Friday last week, the mural in the Kilcooley estate commemorates murdered UDA man Tommy Herron who was shot dead during an internal dispute in 1973.

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".

Defending the displays, he said the masked men's uniforms were "on loan" from a historical organisation.

He claimed the "mural launch and the all content from the day was given to the local PSNI inspector".

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

Alliance councillor Scott Wilson said: "The police have a fine judgement call between policing events and facilitating events that glorify terrorism.

"It is unclear if the police were fully aware of what was going to unfold.

"Local Alliance representatives have been in contact with Ards and North Down PSNI and have been asked to fully investigate this event for any potential offences."

Stitt, who has convictions, 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.

DUP leader Arlene 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".

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