Belfast Telegraph

PSNI's role in panel with guns probe ex-Provo wrong: Beattie

By Gillian Halliday

The Chief Constable has been asked to explain why a senior PSNI officer is to appear on a panel to discuss combating paramilitary activity alongside a Sinn Fein member who is under investigation for gunrunning.

Doug Beattie MLA yesterday voiced serious concerns over the presence of Sean 'Spike' Murray at the Tackling Paramilitarism event, which is supported by the Executive Office, next Tuesday in north Belfast.

An ex-IRA member, Mr Murray is being probed over claims he was involved in arms smuggling after the 1997 ceasefire.

He is to share the panel with Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton.

Other panellists contributing to the discussion, which is being chaired by the Community Relations Council at the 174 Trust/Duncairn Centre, include the PUP's John Kyle and Monica McWilliams of the Independent Reporting Commission.

It has been convened to consider the commission's first report since it was established in 2015 under the Fresh Start Agreement as a mechanism to monitor progress on ending paramilitary activity.

Allegations about the Sinn Fein strategist initially emerged in a 2014 BBC Spotlight programme in which it was claimed he conspired with Florida businessman Mike Logan to bring a large consignment of Glock handguns into the province.

The claims, which have been strongly denied by Mr Murray, were made directly by Mr Logan, who has since died, in an interview.

He disclosed that among the weapons he sent the Provos were around 200 handguns that were used in several murders, including the killing of two police officers in Lurgan in 1997.

It was reported last month that the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) had received a file in June from the PSNI in relation to an allegation of "possession of firearms with intent against a 65-year-old man".

The PPS confirmed yesterday that its consideration of the file had reached an "advanced stage", adding a decision will be issued in due course.

In response Mr Beattie has demanded answers from Chief Constable George Hamilton and the Executive Office as to why the senior republican is included on the panel to discuss ending paramilitary activity when he himself was possibly at the centre of a live criminal investigation.

He said: "The Chief Constable needs to explain why his force is represented on a panel with such an individual."

In August the PSNI was also forced to publicly defend Mr Hamilton after the News Letter reported that he had shared a platform with Mr Murray at a West Belfast Festival debate.

The event, at St Mary's University College, was also attended by loyalist and PUP member Winston Irvine.

Mr Murray's participation at the event had been criticised by a victims' group.

The PSNI said at the time that the Chief Constable was "willing to have uncomfortable conversations around the past".

In relation to next week's event, the PSNI defended the force's participation at events with external contributors such as Mr Murray.

"The PSNI have and will continue to engage with a broad range of individuals who want to make a contribution towards tackling paramilitarism and delivering safer communities," police said.

The PSNI added that "prosecutorial decisions are a matter for the PPS".

Sinn Fein did not respond to a request for comment, while the Executive Office told the Belfast Telegraph that it has played no decision-making role in the event.

"This event and panel discussion has been arranged by Falls Community Council and has not been organised by the Executive Office," it said.

Mr Kyle said he had "no comment" to make.

Belfast Telegraph

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