RELATIVES of four men killed by the UVF have insisted police should make a public apology over comments made by a senior officer, Sinn Fein said last night.
Controversy erupted last month after Dungannon-based Inspector Keith Jamieson said a poster bearing a image of Billy Wright which gloated about the deaths was offensive to some but not to others.
In a statement to the Irish News, he also said the force “must attempt to achieve a balance between the rights of one community over another” after the banner was criticised by the mother of murder victim Dwayne O’Donnell.
Former SDLP deputy leader Patsy McGlone refused to meet Inspector Jamieson after he offered to explain the PSNI’s position.
Questioned by Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly yesterday, ACC Martin said the officer had asked representatives of the party to pass on an apology to the families.
However, Mid Ulster assembly member Linda Dillon, who was also at the meeting, last night said the families want a public apology.
“The statement was made in public and the apology should be in public as well,” she said.
“They feel strongly they deserve a public apology because of the upset was great and we support them on that."
Earlier chief Constable George Hamilton admitted that Inspector Jamieson’s remarks had caused offence.
Asked by the SDLP’s Nichola Mallon if police would issue a similar statement in future, he said: “I do accept that the initial statement issued by the local inspector, in good faith by him, but it has caused offence and probably with hindsight we would not have used the words that were used."
He added: “He would acknowledge that there might have been a different form of words that could have been used that would not have caused offence and that hurt.”
The banner included the words “In proud memory of Brigadier Billy Wright" and the quote "I would look back and say Cappagh was probably my best".
This was a reference to the UVF murder of four men at Boyle’s Bar in Cappagh, near Dungannon, in March 1991.
The victims included IRA members Dwayne O’Donnell (17), Malcolm Nugent (20) and John Quinn (23) and civilian Thomas Armstrong (52).
The banner, which was put up in the Eastvale Avenue area of Dungannon, is thought to have been slashed in half by a man using a knife on July 20.
It is understood it was replaced within hours by a new poster showing Wright standing in front of Drumcree Church which made no reference to the Cappagh killings.
The PSNI later claimed the banner had been removed after consultation with “local representatives and the community” but refused to clarify which banner they were referring to.
During yesterday’s meeting Ms Mallon said the banner had caused “deep hurt” and pressed ACC Martin to clarify the circumstances of its removal.
The senior officer said: “I think there was damage caused to it but it was taken down by people within the community on the 25th of July and police had been involved with local representatives and the community in trying to encourage the withdrawal of that poster.”
Mr Martin said he viewed the poster as "distasteful, offensive and inappropriate" but legal advice had indicated it did not break the law.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin also challenged the officer over the definition of a hate crime following exchanges about the burning of election posters.
“The attitude of the PSNI in relation to the burning of effigies and election posters was unfortunately summed up by ACC Steven Martin at the Policing Board’s public session who said the burning of such materials was like burning a piece of paper and therefore was not a hate crime," Mr Kelly said.
“Essentially what the PSNI have done today is given a get out jail free card to those who engage in these activities.”