Belfast Telegraph

Arrest after banner backing murder charge 'Soldier F' burned in Lurgan

The ‘Support Soldier F’ banner that was erected in Lurgan which was removed and burnt
The ‘Support Soldier F’ banner that was erected in Lurgan which was removed and burnt
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

One man has been arrested after a banner expressing support for a soldier charged with two murders on Bloody Sunday was burned in Co Armagh in what police are treating as a sectarian hate crime.

A number of masked men were pictured after they set fire to the banner - which featured the Parachute Regiment's emblem - in front of a mural encouraging people to "join the IRA" in Lurgan.

A poster also uses the letters PSNI to spell out the message: "People Should Not Inform - MI5".

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart reported the photographs of those involved to police after they were shared on social media yesterday.

They show youths or young men posing in front of an image of a republican gunman.

One of the images shows three masked individuals standing in front of the burning banner making obscene hand gestures.

A 23-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of a number of offences following the incident in the High Street area of the town.

The suspect - who was arrested on suspicion of doing a provocative act, improper use of a public electronic communications network, possession of a class B controlled drug and possession of a class B controlled drug with intent to supply - has been released on bail pending further enquiries.

"It's believed this occurred sometime overnight [on Sunday]," Chief Inspector Barney O'Connor said.

"This is being treated as a sectarian hate incident at this time."

Ms Lockhart said she is "disgusted" that the banner expressing "solidarity with British soldiers" has been burned.

"It was brought to my attention this morning and I immediately spoke with the PSNI who have acted quickly and efficiently with an arrest having been made," the Upper Bann representative said.

"The British Army served with distinction in Northern Ireland.

"Removing this banner is a hate crime and I am pleased that the PSNI are treating it with the seriousness it deserves."

Banners and Parachute Regiment flags pledging support for 'Soldier F' have been appearing in loyalist areas all over Northern Ireland following the decision to prosecute him for the murder of two people on Bloody Sunday in the Bogside area of Londonderry in 1972.

Soldier F, who is accused of murdering William McKinney and James Wray, has also been charged with the attempted murder of four civil rights protesters on the same day.

A number of other veterans also face having to stand trial, including former member of the Life Guards Regiment, Dennis Hutchings (78), for the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham (27) in 1974.

Mr Hutchings denies the charge.

Many people, including UK Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, have expressed concern that veterans are being unfairly targeted by legacy investigations which disproportionately focus on killings by state forces, rather than terrorist organisations.

Ms Lockhart appealed for calm as she asked local residents to give police space to carry out their investigation.

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