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Bonfire banner with name of murdered police officer a ‘hate crime’

Police have appealed for information about the bonfire in Londonderry.

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Flags and banners are hung on a large bonfire being built to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption in the Bogside area of Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

Flags and banners are hung on a large bonfire being built to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption in the Bogside area of Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

Flags and banners are hung on a large bonfire being built to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption in the Bogside area of Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

The placing of a banner bearing the name of a murdered police officer on a republican bonfire has been described as a “hate crime” and a “deep insult” to his memory.

The Police Federation of Northern Ireand (PFNI), which represents rank-and-file PSNI officers, said the action was an “appalling indictment” of some sections of society.

The name of Constable Ronan Kerr, who was murdered by dissident republicans in Omagh in 2011, was clearly visible on the side of a pyre in the Bogside area of Londonderry on Sunday evening.

Another threatening placard on the bonfire named current Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Simon Byrne.

Threats to other named individuals were also displayed.

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Police Federation Northern Ireland chairman Mark Lindsay (PA)

Police Federation Northern Ireland chairman Mark Lindsay (PA)

PA

Police Federation Northern Ireland chairman Mark Lindsay (PA)

PFNI chair Mark Lindsay said: “This is clearly a hate crime. It is designed to intimidate and is deeply insulting to the vast majority of our society who support policing.

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“We have seen a trend where bonfires on both sides of our community become vehicle for hate messages. This has to stop and those in positions of responsibility need to work to eradicate this abhorrent practice.

“Those who attach these stomach-churning posters really are devoid of any shred of decency. Society needs to realise that older more influential people are passing on their hatred and vile actions to impressionable children who are often seen helping at bonfire sites.

“Put simply, they are teaching children to hate which is particularly abhorrent and reprehensible.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the use of Constable Kerr’s name on the bonfire was “disgraceful”.

He told the BBC: “I must say it is very worrying and I hope that we will hear widespread condemnation of this.

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DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the use of Constable Ronan Kerr’s name on the bonfire was ‘disgraceful’ (Peter Morrison/PA)

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the use of Constable Ronan Kerr’s name on the bonfire was ‘disgraceful’ (Peter Morrison/PA)

PA

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the use of Constable Ronan Kerr’s name on the bonfire was ‘disgraceful’ (Peter Morrison/PA)

“I spoke out very clearly when it came to bonfires around the Twelfth and said that it was wrong to engage in this kind of activity. I encouraged people not to desecrate flags and posters and symbols.

“Putting the name of a murdered PSNI officer, Ronan Kerr, on a bonfire and thinking of the harm, the hurt and the pain that causes to his family, it is absolutely dreadful.

“I would say to the police that we must have the lowest tolerance level of this kind of behaviour and I hope the police will seek to identify the people who have done that.

“It is a hate crime, it is a criminal offence and therefore it should not be tolerated, this kind of behaviour is disgraceful.”

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A large bonfire burns to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption in the Bogside area of Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

A large bonfire burns to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption in the Bogside area of Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

A large bonfire burns to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption in the Bogside area of Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

Union flags, Israeli flags and British military insignia, including that of the Parachute Regiment, were also tied to the fire before it was lit late on Sunday night.

Members of the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 civil rights demonstrators on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.

Similar flags and emblems were displayed on another bonfire in the Galliagh area on Sunday.

Bonfires are traditionally lit in nationalist areas of the city on August 15 to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption.

The fires are also associated with the August anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial during the Troubles, and this year the bonfire building happened on the same weekend that unionists and loyalists participated in the annual Apprentice Boys Relief of Derry commemorations.

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Flags and banners hang from a large bonfire which was lit to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption in the Galliagh area of Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

Flags and banners hang from a large bonfire which was lit to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption in the Galliagh area of Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Flags and banners hang from a large bonfire which was lit to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption in the Galliagh area of Londonderry (Liam McBurney/PA)

Republican and loyalist bonfires continue to be a source of controversy in Northern Ireland.

Bonfire builders from both communities have provoked anger in the past by burning symbols associated with the other’s culture.

The PSNI said it was aware of a banner on the Bogside bonfire that made threats to police officers and a member of the public.

Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones said: “The display of this material has been perceived as both offensive and distasteful.

“An evidence-gathering operation was in place during this incident and we will now review this to establish if any offences occurred. If any offences are detected, a full police investigation will be carried out.”

He urged anyone with information to come forward.


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