Belfast Telegraph

Pensioner fined after removing banner depicting loyalist killer

Frank McGirr who was fined over the banner incident
Frank McGirr who was fined over the banner incident

By Staff Reporter

A man accused of stealing a banner depicting loyalist killer Wesley Somerville in Co Tyrone over two years ago has been charged with a lesser count of attempting to cause criminal damage.

Frank McGirr was originally accused of stealing the banner from Victor McNickle on June 23, 2017. It had been erected on a lamppost in Moygashel.

At the time, police confirmed they were investigating and this was quickly followed by a report of the arrest of a man in his 60s, who was then freed on bail.

McGirr (66), of Shanliss Road, Stewartstown previously elected to have the case heard at Crown Court. Numerous adjournments followed while legal discussions continued, and yesterday a prosecuting lawyer told Dungannon Crown Court: "A resolution has been reached and a certain course of action will be taken."

This involved a count of attempting to cause damage to the banner being added, and the theft charge being "left on the court books".

McGirr, who attended in a wheelchair, pleaded guilty to the new, lesser charge.

The court heard police were called to Moygashel on the day in question after a report of a male taking down the banner, then getting into a car associated with McGirr. Officers attended his home and found the banner in his bin. Mr McNickle, chairman of Moygashel Residents' Association, claimed ownership of the banner which was returned to him.

Defence counsel Blaine Nugent said: "In short, my client was offended by what was on the banner. I have told him I do not intend to get into the politics around this, but it is fair to say the person depicted was known to be part of an enterprise who murdered members of the Miami Showband, who were known to my client."

The defence pointed out McGirr "never darkened the door of a court" until aged 60.

"He was a pillar of the community and chairman of his local football association. He did much youth work and was a very well-respected greyhound trainer. He established a very successful business."

It was contended however that after suffering a brain injury in 2007, McGirr began exhibiting behavioural changes.

Mr Nugent stressed "none of that is to say any of his behaviour is excusable", candidly pointing out McGirr is facing two separate cases at Dungannon Magistrates' Court next month, and is appealing sentences for other matters.

It was accepted there is also a suspended sentence on record "for a different type of offending".

Fining McGirr £300, Judge Brian Sherrard QC stated: "This is an unusual case. Obviously, this type of behaviour has to be addressed."

Wesley Somerville of the UVF's notorious Mid-Ulster Brigade had also served with the UDR. He died along with fellow loyalist Harris Boyle as they placed a bomb on a minibus carrying the Miami Showband in July 1975.

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