Belfast Telegraph

Man named as UVF leader met police for Avoniel bonfire talks

Avoniel Bonfire, East Belfast. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Avoniel Bonfire, East Belfast. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye

A man who has been named as the leader of the east Belfast UVF met with police for discussion over the Avoniel Leisure Centre bonfire, the BBC has reported.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson told the BBC that Stephen Matthews was one of a number of loyalists to meet with police to discuss the controversial bonfire.

Mr Matthews strongly denies being the leader of the east Belfast UVF.

Mr Bryson told the BBC that Mr Matthews met with police in his role as a member of the East Belfast Cultural Collective which oversees a number of bonfires in the greater Belfast area.

"He played an extremely positive role as part of the collective in ensuring we had a peaceful cultural celebration at Avoniel," he said.

"Stephen Matthews has never been convicted of membership of any proscribed organisation.

"Stephen Matthews robustly denies being the leader of the east Belfast UVF."

The controversial bonfire was built on council-owned land and went ahead after councillors were told that the East Belfast UVF had threatened violence if the bonfire material was removed.

Councillors had voted to have the material removed but contractors engaged to carry out the work pulled out after threatening graffiti appeared near the leisure centre.

Last Wednesday Belfast City Council heard a warning from police that guns could be used during severe violence orchestrated by loyalist paramilitaries if the bonfire material was removed.

Jamie Bryson as a protest is held at the Avoniel bonfire in east Belfast on July 9th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Jamie Bryson as a protest is held at the Avoniel bonfire in east Belfast on July 9th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Council were warned that intelligence indicated "that any attempt by the council to remove bonfire material will cause a severe violent confrontation, orchestrated by the UVF".

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