PSNI chief George Hamilton to be quizzed over Billy Wright banner

A new banner glorifying former LVF leader Billy Wright has been put up at Eastvale Avenue in Dungannon. Picture by Mal McCann.
Connla Young

Chief constable George Hamilton is set to be questioned over the PSNI’s failure to remove a banner gloating about the murders of four Catholic men in Co Tyrone.

SDLP policing board member Nichola Mallon last night said she intends to raise the issue with him in the coming weeks.

The development comes after the controversial banner, which was put up on a lamppost in the Eastvale Avenue area of Dungannon earlier this month, was replaced yesterday morning.

The Irish News understands the original banner, which glorified former UVF boss and LVF founder Billy Wright, was damaged during an attempt to remove it yesterday.

It has been claimed that a man used a Stanley knife to slice the controversial banner in half.

The original banner included an image of Wright and read: “In proud memory of Brigadier Billy Wright" and carried the quote 'I would look back and say Cappagh was probably my best.'

This is believed to be a reference to the UVF murder of three IRA men, Dwayne O’Donnell (17), Malcolm Nugent (20) and John Quinn (23), who along with civilian Thomas Armstrong, died during a gun attack at Boyle’s Bar in Cappagh in 1991.

It has now been replaced by a new banner which shows Wright standing in front of Drumcree Church in Portadown and bears the words “In proud memory, Billy Wright, a true son of Ulster.”

There is no reference to the Cappagh killings on the new banner although it does carry a quote from the dead loyalist.

Several LVF flags have been put up in the area while a plaque dedicated to the loyalist leader, who was responsible for dozens of sectarian murders during the Troubles, is fixed to a nearby gable wall.

Wright is believed to have played a central role in the Cappagh killings, which relatives believe involved collusion.

A Relatives For Justice report published earlier this year claimed that four UDR men were later questioned about the murders.

Nationalists have reacted angrily this week after Dungannon based PSNI inspector Keith Jamieson said police "must attempt to achieve a balance between the rights of one community over another" after the force was criticised by the Briege O’Donnell, the mother of murder victim Dwayne O’Donnell.

The senior officer also said the banner will be offensive to some but not to others.

Mrs O’Donnell said the wording on the banner was offensive.

“If it were a poster of Billy Wright, there wouldn’t be an issue, it’s the quote that accompanies the poster glorifying the killing of people,” she said.

SDLP Policing Board member Nichola Mallon last night said “there is no grey area”.

“It clearly glorifies and celebrates murder and is offensive, not least to the victims' families,” she said.

“And many people will find this police response, talking about the need to balance the rights of those who erected it with the rights of the victims and other law abiding citizens, offensive.”

The SDLP assembly member said Mr Hamilton has “questions to answer”.

“He needs to clarify what right anyone has to erect a poster of this nature and whether this response is PSNI policy,” she said.

Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone has branded the police attitude to the banner as “disgraceful” and called on inspector Jamieson to withdraw his remarks.

He said he reported the poster to a PSNI as “incitement to hatred” two weeks ago.

The PSNI was asked last night if Inspector Jamieson intended to withdraw his remarks and if the incident was being treated as a hate crime.

In response Superintendent Mike Baird said: "We are working with the local community and representatives to resolve this matter."

Sinn Féin assembly member Linda Dillon said she will be meeting with the PSNI.

“The erection of a poster with the image of Billy Wright and a quote mocking the death of four local men in Cappagh has caused concern amongst the local community,” she said.

“The message from the image is clearly offensive and has caused hurt to the families of those who were murdered.”

Alliance Justice spokesperson Trevor Lunn MLA said the PSNI “certainly has questions to answer over this matter”.

“There is nothing to balance in this case murder is wrong and we must all unite to reject the likes of this banner and other murals or similar memorials if we are to build a safe and inclusive society for everyone in Northern Ireland,” he said.

A spokesman for the UUP declined to directly comment on the content of the banner.

“We do not celebrate any Troubles related death as we believe nobody needed to die to get us to where we are today,” he said.

“This banner is yet another example of the need to deal with the past.”

No-one from the DUP was available for comment.

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