Belfast Telegraph

'UVF leader' talked to PSNI chief over Avoniel bonfire

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A man widely named as the leader of the East Belfast UVF was involved in bonfire talks with senior PSNI officers, a loyalist activist has claimed.

Jamie Bryson told the BBC that Stephen Matthews took part in talks with the PSNI in recent weeks on bonfire related issues.

He added that Mr Matthews played "an extremely positive role" in a recent "cultural celebration" at the contentious Avoniel bonfire.

Mr Bryson, who speaks for the East Belfast Cultural Collective (EBCC) that represents a number of bonfire organisers, had already posted a picture of himself with Mr Matthews over the weekend on Twitter following the contentious bonfire outside Avoniel Leisure Centre.

He said Mr Matthews had never been convicted of membership of any proscribed organisation and "robustly denies" being the leader of the East Belfast UVF.

The comments came after the new Chief Constable Simon Byrne vowed to take on the UVF, accusing them of "cynical" tactics at Avoniel which included using women and children as human shields.

An earlier statement from the EBCC called the Chief Constable's comments "utterly ludicrous".

It added that rather than loyalists engaging in violence, they used "positive influence which manifested itself via bouncy castles and a children's carnival". "If the PSNI and Belfast City Council were outmanoeuvred, not by bottles and bricks but by bouncy castles, then that is their problem."

Alliance Party councillor Michael Long responded: "I certainly don't buy into the story that this was all about bouncy castles. I think there was certainly a very sinister element involved.

"I don't know if there have been discussions (between the PSNI and Mr Matthews) or not but it was clear the UVF were quite clearly orchestrating violence and were looking to orchestrate trouble in east Belfast.

"There's concern about the rule of law and order within the city and we've asked for a meeting with the police.

"We would like to be reassured the police are taking every step they can to stamp out paramilitary activity in east Belfast."

DUP MP Gavin Robinson also told the BBC he welcomed the Chief Constable's words but would judge him on his actions.

"I think it's encouraging to hear what the Chief Constable has to say, I think everyone is prepared to give him a fair wind as our new chief constable in Northern Ireland but the community want action," he said.

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