Sinn Fein challenge PSNI over 'Soldier F' banner in Ballymoney
A Sinn Fein MLA has asked the PSNI to explain why they "stood by and watched" while a banner in support of a soldier accused of murders committed on Bloody Sunday was erected in Ballymoney.
In response, the PSNI said it is not their responsibility to remove flags and banners and will only do so when there are "substantial risks to public safety".
Earlier this year, it was announced that "Soldier F" will stand trial for the murders of William McKinney and James Wray in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday in 1972.
He has also been accused of the attempted murder of four civil rights protesters: Patrick O'Donnell, Michael Quinn, Joseph Friel and Joseph Mahon.
In the wake of the announcement banners in support of the former soldier have appeared across Northern Ireland.
The latest banner was erected in Ballymoney on Friday and pictures from the scene show PSNI officers standing nearby while it is put up.
Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said: “This banner is right outside the Jobs and Benefits Office on John Street, which is used by all sections of the community.
"It is clearly intimidatory and offensive, particularly to those who have lost loved ones as a result of state violence. Several police officers stood by and watched while this banner was put up.
The message supporting soldier F, the location (outside the jobs & benefit office in Ballymoney), and the 3 @PSNICCGDistrict officers standing chatting/observing - ALL pathetic! pic.twitter.com/0xNzpjQuuj— Philip McGuigan (@mcguigan_philip) June 21, 2019
“I am requesting an urgent meeting with the PSNI to demand answers as to why police officers stood by and did not intervene while this banner was erected.”
PSNI district commander for the area, Superintendent Jeremy Lindsay said: "Police received a report of a banner erected in the John Street area of Ballymoney this afternoon.
"Upon arrival of police, a number of people were spoken to and details collated.
“The removal of flags/banners is not the responsibility of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and police will only act to remove flags where there are substantial risks to public safety.”
Last week, Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady said a masked man erected a Soldier F banner in Armagh city centre and claimed PSNI officers were nearby at the time and did not intervene.
In response, PSNI Chief Inspector Barney O 'Connor said a number of people were spoken to by police over the incident, one of whom was wearing a scarf over his face.
"As part of our enquiries, police will review body worn footage taken by an officer in attendance," he added.
Earlier this week it emerged that Soldier F is expected to appear at Derry Magistrates' Court in August.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed the plan in a letter to relatives of those allegedly shot by the former paratrooper.
Thirteen people were killed in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday and 15 were wounded when members of the parachute regiment opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in the Bogside. A 14th man died of related injuries months later.
Belfast Telegraph Digital