Northern Ireland news

Officers ‘scapegoated' over bookmakers commemoration actions, DUP claim

UDA shooting victim Mark Sykes was arrested by the PSNI on Friday
Michael McHugh, PA

The police officers involved in the Sean Graham bookmakers commemoration have been made scapegoats, the DUP has said.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has apologised for the scenes that unfolded at the site of the loyalist massacre when officers intervened at an anniversary ceremony amid suspicions that the public gathering breached coronavirus regulations.

Policing Board member Thomas Buchanan said the force may have been pressurised by Sinn Féin into taking disciplinary action.

He said: “Two young officers are being made scapegoats by the Chief Constable.

“That is not acceptable and questions have to be answered.”

One officer has been suspended and another repositioned following Friday’s incident in Belfast’s Ormeau Road.

The actions have been taken pending the outcome of a Police Ombudsman investigation into the events.

Mr Buchanan queried whether Mr Byrne was put under pressure.

“Where is the protection for police officers going out to do a job that they have been trained to do and then subjected to trial by social media?” he asked.

Mark Sykes, who was shot several times in the 1992 massacre that claimed the lives of five people, was handcuffed and arrested in chaotic scenes captured on social media.

Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly said the anger and distress in the community is palpable.

“People demand that the police be impartial.”

Chief Constable Simon Byrne speaking at PSNI headquarters about the policing of a commemoration event on the Ormeau Road

Matthew O’Toole, from the SDLP, remembered the suffering of the relatives.

He said: “We need a little more consistency and nuance and I hope to see that in the days ahead.”

Ulster Unionist Mike Nesbitt asked if there was a “lapse in corporate memory” around planning for the event.

He recalled the horror of that day, which he covered as a journalist, and said police as well as organisers of the commemoration had questions to answer.

“Let us use it to learn and to move forward together.”

Mark Sykes was arrested in the Ormeau Road area of Belfast on Friday

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