Northern Ireland news

Sean Graham Bookmaker victim Mark Sykes held 'handcuffed in car for more than hour and a half' without being questioned

Mark Sykes pictured yesterday at a memorial to the victims of the Sean Graham bookmakers atrocity. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Connla Young

SEAN Graham bookmaker victim Marks Sykes has told of his anger following his arrest last Friday which he said had left the community in "pain" and "distress".

The south Belfast man was detained after he and a small number of relatives gathered on the Ormeau Road last Friday for an event to mark 29th anniversary of the 1992 UDA atrocity.

Police officers approached those gathered to talk about a breach of Covid regulations but the situation escalated and Mr Sykes was arrested.

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

Chief Constable Simon Byrne apologised over what happened and the incident is being investigated by the Police Ombudsman.

One officer has been suspended, while another has been ‘repositioned’.

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It has now emerged that the 52-year-old was forced to remain handcuffed in a police car for more than an hour and a half before being eventually released without charge.

His brother-in-law Peter Magee (18) was one of five people killed when a UDA gang 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 66-year-old Jack Duffin.

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

The father-of-four was hit twice in the left arm and one in the right during the massacre and still has a bullet in his body near his heart.

Since the deadly attack almost three decades ago Mr Sykes has been deeply involved in uncovering the circumstances surrounding the attack.

Collusion is strongly suspected and the release of a Police Ombudsman report into the atrocity was delayed two years ago after it emerged that police had failed to disclose sensitive information linked to the case.

In his first print interview since he was arrested Mr Sykes last night declared “I am the only person that the PSNI has ever arrested in relation to the Sean Graham bookmakers."

The campaigner said the events of last Friday have angered him.

“I am angry knowing my wife, children and grandchildren were left standing in the street crying and the families of the other relatives were left in distress,” he said.

“It felt like an invasion of grieving families.

“I am angry and annoyed at how this has happened.

“It is unbelievable that someone, on the 29th anniversary, would come in and interrupt a commemoration for five families remembering their loved ones.”

Grieving relatives who arranged the private event say only a small number of people were present although the PSNI has claimed that 30 people were in attendance.

The arrest took place just days after a UVF mob marched through the Pitt Park area of East Belfast as police officers present failed to intervene.

After his arrest he said he was double handcuffed behind with his arms placed behind his back and put in to a police car.

The justice campaigner said that he was taken to Musgrave Police Station where he and two officers remained in the car.

During this time he refused to speak to the officers who had asked him for identification.

He says he was then driven from Musgrave around Belfast city centre before eventually returning to the station.

He was then told that he was being released and that he would be taken to a location of his choice.

After replying that he would walk from the station his solicitor Niall Murphy of KRW Law and custody sergeant arrived.

His handcuffs were removed and he was released pending a report to the Public Prosecution Service.

While handcuffed Mr Sykes said he felt pain in his wrists, arms and right shoulder and still has pins and needles.

He said the incident has had a wider impact.

“Obviously it’s been a stressful three days, it has not been great,” he said.

“Sleeping has been difficult this last couple of nights.

“But it’s not about me, I want to emphasise that, I survived the bookies, there are five families whose members did not survive

“They feel the pain more than I do.

“I think more important is the impact and pain left in the community.”

Asked if he accepted the PSNI apology for what happened he said his solicitor has written to the Chief Constable Simon Byrne “and we await his reply”.

Mr Sykes also urged the Police Ombudsman to release her long-awaited report into the massacre.

“Some of these families will never see justice if this Police Ombudsman report is not released as soon as possible,” he said.

Mr Murphy said he has written to the chief constable “in respect of his request for a meeting with the families and we await his response”.

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