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DUP condemns 'hate crime' of Orange hall flag thefts in Co Londonderry

The theft of a Union flag and Somme Commemoration flag from a Co Londonderry Orange hall has been condemned by DUP's Keith Buchanan as a hate crime.

The two flags were ripped down from Ballyneal Orange hall near Magherafelt overnight Friday.

And the flag poles were also damaged in the theft.

Police believe that the theft at Ballyneal Orange hall happened sometime between 1-5.20am Saturday.

The DUP's Keith Buchanan said: "This is clearly a hate crime motivated by sectarianism and unfortunately follows a number of similar attacks to halls across the Province.

"Over this weekend people have been marking the service and sacrifice of those from all traditions who fought at the Battle of the Somme. It is particularly disgraceful therefore that a Somme remembrance flag was one of those ripped down in this attack.

"I would urge anyone with information to contact the police so that those responsible might be brought to justice."

The Orange Order said that the theft  happened just hours after the flags were erected at the Brookmount Road property.

A spokesman said: "Due to its rural and isolated location, Ballyneal hall would be regarded as an easy target for the intolerant culprits wishing to engage in such low life criminality. Nonetheless, this does not excuse their misdemeanours under the cover of darkness.

"Any form of disrespect for the Union flag is appalling and must be condemned. However, it is abhorrent that a flag commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, recognising the loss of all who paid the supreme sacrifice - regardless of background, colour or creed - should be treated with such disdain. Those responsible ought to be utterly ashamed of their actions."

There have been 13 attacks on Orange Halls so far this year, according to the Orange Order.

In May paint and graffiti was daubed on two Orange Halls in Banbridge while another hall at Muckery in Co Armagh was targeted by arsonists.

There was also a failed arson bid at Ballyneal Orange Hall last month.

Sergeant Tate from the Local Policing Team confirmed police are treating the theft as a hate crime.

He is asking anyone who was in the area and who noticed the flags being removed, or any other unusual activity, to contact police in Magherafelt on 101, quoting reference 1356 02/07/16.

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