Northern Ireland

Victim of Sean Graham bookmakers atrocity arrested as he lays flowers on anniversary

UDA shooting victim Mark Sykes was arrested by the PSNI yesterday as he laid flowers at the scene of the Sean Grahams bookmakers atrocity
UDA shooting victim Mark Sykes was arrested by the PSNI yesterday as he laid flowers at the scene of the Sean Grahams bookmakers atrocity

A victim of the 1992 Sean Graham bookmakers atrocity was arrested yesterday as he and relatives laid flowers at a memorial to the dead.

Mark Sykes was detained after he and a small number of loved ones gathered on the Ormeau Road yesterday for a private commemoration of the 29th anniversary.

His brother-in-law Peter Magee (18) was one of five people killed when a UDA murder squad burst into the south Belfast bookmakers and opened fire on February 5, 1992.

The dead also included James Kennedy (15), Christy Doherty (51), William McManus (54) and Jack Duffin (66).

Seven people were also injured in the attack, including Mr Sykes, who was shot seven times.

Collusion is strongly suspected the mass murder.

Earlier this week the PSNI faced criticism after dozens of masked UVF members marched through a housing development in east Belfast as officers looked on without intervening.

Video footage of the PSNI operation was posted online and Mr Sykes can be seen holding a bag containing floral tributes.

He was taken to Musgrave PSNI station and later released.

Mr Sykes last night said the "only thing I had in my hands was flowers that my 3-year-old grand daughter had lain at her uncles memorial.

"When I asked police what they were doing and had they notebooks out at Pitt Park, I was told if I swore again I would be arrested," he said.

"I said this is a f**king disgrace as I walked away."

Mr Sykes said he was then arrested.

"The police then grabbed me and handcuffed me," he said.

"The cuffs were as tight as possible, behind my back.

"The handcuffs were dug in tightly to the bullet wounds I suffered 29 years ago to the day.

"On top of the insult of donating the weapon to shoot me to a museum they have today literally rubbed the steel of their handcuffs as salt in my physical wounds”

Speaking outside the station yesterday his solicitor Niall Murphy said he had been arrested for disorderly behaviour.

Mr Murphy said those attending the event had maintained a "dignified silence" and laid flowers.

"The police attended for what reason I will never know, approached victims and survivors of an atrocity and commenced to harass push and assault man, woman and child," he said.

He added that a teenage girl had been assaulted and he understood that had been captured on video.

First minister Michelle O'Neill last night branded the operation "unjustified" and "heavy handed."

Her senior party colleague Gerry Kelly said "it beggars belief that police have acted in such a heavy handed way with victims of loyalist violence in a week where the PSNI didn’t as much as take a name or stop a single member of an East Belfast UVF criminal gang of more than 50 men whose intent was to violently intimidate people out of their homes".

Mark Thompson for Relatives for Justice, who works closely with the loved ones of those who died, said policing needs to be re-examined.

"What we need is a major rethink on policing," he said.

"We need a Patten-style commission mark two.

"On paper it looks fine in terms of accountability but in reality none of it works."

PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne last night said officers "came across between 30 and 40 people" at the bookmakers memorial.

He said that two officers spoke to a man about a breach of health protection regulations.

"The situation quickly escalated and a man was arrested for disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest," he said.

The senior officer added that "in the course of the incident a police officer sustained a minor injury to his face".

Mr Byrne said he has spoken to First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill along with other stakeholders to brief them.

"I fully recognise the sensitivities of this incident and just how difficult a day this would have already been for the families who lost loved ones in the atrocity," he said.

"That should not be forgotten.

"We are acutely aware that this is the latest incident to raise concerns about the enforcement of Coronavirus Regulations and illustrates there are no easy answers."

Mr Byrne appealed for calm.