Northern Ireland news

'I don't think he could have put the cuffs on any tighter' - Mark Sykes on being arrested at atrocity commemoration

Mark Sykes pictured outside Musgrave Street police station in Belfast with his solicitor Niall Murphy (right) after his release
Rebecca Black, PA

A man who was arrested at a commemoration service for a Troubles atrocity in Belfast has criticised the actions of police.

Mark Sykes was arrested at the event on Friday to remember those killed in a shooting by loyalists at the Sean Graham bookmaker’s shop on the Ormeau Road.

The Belfast man was injured in the 1992 shooting which saw five killed.

He was part of a gathering of more than six people on Friday afternoon, which is against the current coronavirus regulations.

A PSNI statement on Friday said 30-40 people were gathered.

Mr Sykes said around 14 to 15 people were in attendance.

The families involved said everyone had been socially distanced.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne apologised over the incident which is being investigated by the Police Ombudsman.

One officer was suspended and another “re-positioned”.

Mr Sykes said he wants to get to the bottom of what happened.

“I didn’t get up on Friday morning to be arrested and I’m sure the person who arrested me didn’t get up on Friday morning to arrest me but somebody decided to arrest me on Friday and I think we need to get to the bottom of that,” he told the BBC.

“There was 15 people laying flowers at a memorial, anybody would know that there was someone paying respects to someone who had died, people should have been aware and I assumed the PSNI would have been aware of it all.”

Billy McManus said things “got out of hand very very quickly”.

“It was all family members around trying to cool things down,” he said.

Mr Sykes said he asked an officer over whether he had had his notebook out in east Belfast when a crowd of loyalists gathered at Pitt Park days earlier.

“He walked over and says, ‘I’m not from east Belfast, I’m south Belfast, and if you swear at me once more, I’m arresting you’,” he said.

He said the officer asked who had organised the event, at which point Mr McManus joined them and told the officer there was no organiser.

“He then went for the handcuffs, pursued me around a vehicle that was parked in the street, I don’t think he could have put the cuffs on any tighter, I couldn’t move my arms, they were behind my back and I was put into the back of the car and taken to Musgrave Street (police station),” he said.

“Its obviously a difficult couple of days for all and should never have happened.”

Mr Sykes said while he swore at least twice at officers he was not physically aggressive towards the officers.

In a statement on Friday February 5, the PSNI said a man was arrested for disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest.

The Police Federation in Northern Ireland said the two officers under no circumstances went to the gathering to cause any offence or any hurt.

Chairman Mark Lindsay said the officers were driving past and saw the crowd and were totally unaware of the context.

“They did not walk into the middle of the event, they waited until the event was over and they identified someone they thought may have been the organiser, whenever all the equipment was being put away into a van, and that is whenever this has gone wrong,” he said.

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Northern Ireland news