Northern Ireland news

PSNI to probe loyalist funeral over suspected Covid rule breach

Police are also investigating breaches at the Eamon McCourt funeral in Derry

THE PSNI has launched an investigation after scores of people turned out for the funeral of a prominent loyalist in north Belfast.

Around 100 people are reported to have walked behind the coffin of Hugh 'Boot' Hill (58) during his funeral procession on Friday.

Hill is believed to have been the former second in command of the East Antrim UVF but walked away from the paramilitary group several years ago.

Loyalist leaders, including John Bunter Graham, Harry Stockman and Jackie Anderson, are believed to have been among the mourners according to Sunday Life.

It has been reported that police watched as the cortege left Gainsborough Drive in the Shore Road area before making its way to Roselawn Cemetery.

Under Northern Ireland's current coronavirus restrictions, no more than 25 people are allowed to attend the services.

No pre or post-funeral gatherings are permitted either and wakes cannot take place.

Chief Inspector Darren Fox said they were aware of the funeral and had engaged with representatives of "the family of the deceased, funeral director and local community representatives".

"Across these engagements, police emphasised the need for adherence to the current health protection regulations and sought assurances from those with influence," he said.

The senior officer said an investigation has now been launched after a large crowd followed the coffin, which was draped in a UVF flag.

“Regrettably at the funeral on Friday morning, a significant number of people gathered as part of the cortege, in a manner likely to be in breach of the health protection regulations," he said.

"As a result, police have commenced an investigation into the matter, evidence has been gathered, and where individuals are identified as potentially being in breach of the regulations, they will be reported to the Public Prosecution Service.”

The latest probe comes after a large crowd took part in the funeral cortege of veteran IRA man Eamon "Peggy" McCourt in Derry last week.

Sinn Féin said it played no part in the funeral arrangements, although some local councillors attended.

The 62-year-old died with suspected Covid-19 and was buried on Monday.

Police say they are investigating.

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