Belfast Telegraph

Replacement banner paying tribute to UVF murderer in Co Tyrone village is legal: PSNI

By Leona O'Neill

A new banner of a loyalist killer that has been erected in Co Tyrone is legal, the PSNI has said.

Police arrested a man for theft after he removed the first banner dedicated to Wesley Somerville, one of the UVF gang who carried out the 1975 Miami Showband massacre.

Stephen Travers, who survived the bomb blast in which three of his bandmates were murdered, said yesterday that the people of Moygashel must be "short on heroes if they are honouring a man who murdered innocent musicians".

He said that the "real loyalist heroes" of the Somme would be "spinning in their graves" at the thought of Somerville being included in their number.

He was speaking after the controversial banner dedicated to Somerville, which was taken off a lamp post, was replaced by a new one on Saturday.

The PSNI said that the erection of the new poster did not break the law and that no crime has been committed.

Chief Inspector Roy Robinson said: "As a police service we recognise the hurt and frustration that can be caused when a particular poster or banner appears; however, we are compelled in law to consider the legislation available to us.

"Whilst the display of this poster may be perceived as offensive and distasteful, the erection of it does not in itself breach the law. Therefore it is being treated as a 'hate incident' as no crime has been committed."

However, solicitor Peter Corrigan of KRW Law in Belfast claimed that the PSNI is wrong.

"The PSNI are saying that this is not a criminal offence," he said.

"We are challenging this. Under Public Order Offences it is a criminal offence to have a banner that causes fear within a section of the community.

"We are calling for the PSNI to take the banner down and we are challenging their interpretation that this is not a criminal offence."

Police arrested a man in his 60s in connection with the theft of the original banner. He was released on bail pending further inquiries.

Mr Travers said: "They say the law is an ass and this is a perfect example. If it is a case of the police are afraid of trouble if they take it down, then that would be abject cowardice.

"I can certainly see the difficulties saying that someone gets a criminal record for taking it down, and I'm sure it was taken down in conscience, and then that it's not a crime to put it up.

"It's not a case of putting it up causing any more damage, but I think the damage that has been done is to the Moygashel community.

"The whole world is looking at this and saying they must be very short of heroes if that's who they have to honour.

"They are shooting themselves in the foot on this, but let them continue."

Tensions in the Tyrone village were said to be 'extremely high' last week after a man was arrested for taking the flag down on Main Street.

The tribute to Somerville, one of two UVF men who blew themselves up while planting explosives on the Miami Showband's minibus in July 1975, was put up beside other UVF banners. Families of UVF victims had called on the police to remove it.

Victor McNicholl from the Moygashel Residents' Association said the community is "now happy" after the banner was replaced.

"It is not the same one that had been stolen. A new one has been made and was erected again on Saturday," he said.

"It is nothing to do with my group and I don't know where it came from. I just know that it has gone back up.

"Everyone is very happy that it has gone back up. That is the end of it now.

"They will not take it back down again. It shouldn't have been stolen in the first place.

"It stays up for two months, the same as the decorations in the village for the Twelfth of July, and then it is taken down again at the start of September.

"It is only people who are outside the village who are complaining about it. But they don't say anything about the IRA murals down the road. They don't come down, they are up all year round. Wesley is back up there now, he has been there for the past 25 years and he will be back up there for the next 20 years.

"We are a Protestant village, he is part of the culture of the village. He is not a terrorist, he never was a terrorist as far as this village is concerned and that is not glorifying anything. It is nothing against anybody.

"I don't understand why people are annoyed about it. There are a thousand things more important than a poster in Moygashel."

But Mr Travers said the move will have the 'real heroes of loyalism' spinning in their graves.

"I can't change the people of Moygashel," he says. "It is the way they want to be represented. I wonder if parents show the poster to their children and tell them that this is who I want you to be when you grow up.

"If that is the case then God help the children of Moygashel. When you consider the options they have for heroes, the people from the Second World War and the Somme, I'm sure they are spinning in their graves to know they are equated in any way with people who kill themselves while trying to murder innocent musicians."

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