Police watchdog investigates arrest at memorial event in Belfast

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The arrest of a Troubles shooting victim at a wreath-laying ceremony in Belfast is being investigated by the police watchdog.

Mark Sykes was detained after officers approached a group of people attending an event commemorating the 29th anniversary of a loyalist paramilitary attack on the Sean Graham bookmakers shop.

The incident was described as “a shameful display of policing” by deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill, who said it had caused “unprecedented anger and distress across the community.”

Northern Ireland’s chief constable, Simon Byrne, appealed for calm as he acknowledged that it was “the latest incident to raise concerns about the enforcement of coronavirus regulations”. Public gatherings of more than six people are currently prevented under the lockdown.

He added: “I fully recognise the sensitivities of this incident and just how difficult a day this would have already been for the families who lost loved ones in the atrocity. That should not be forgotten.”

Mr Byrne said police were reviewing all footage of the incident, including the officers’ body-worn video, and were conducting an “assessment of the conduct of the officers involved”.

The Police Ombudsman’s Office later confirmed it had received a complaint and had launched an investigation.

“Our investigation will focus on establishing all of the facts surrounding the incident, and investigators will be examining all available evidence in order to consider the appropriateness of the actions taken by police, including the arrest,” the ombudsman said in a statement.

Footage of the arrest and angry exchanges involving officers and those attending Friday’s event have been posted online.

Police said that officers from the South Belfast local policing team had become aware that a group of between 30 and 40 people were gathered at the event in Ormeau Road at around 2.30pm on Friday.

Mr Byrne said in a statement: “As the event concluded, two officers approached a person to talk to him about a breach of the Health Protection Regulations.

“The situation quickly escalated and a man was arrested for disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest. He was taken to Musgrave police station and was released at 4.04pm.

“In the course of the incident a police officer sustained a minor injury to his face.”

Mr Sykes was later released from Musgrave PSNI station in Belfast. His lawyer Niall Murphy said: “Every year the victims and survivors gather in dignity to remember their loved ones and to say a short prayer.

“This year because of Covid restrictions it was restricted to the five families who maintained a dignified silence and left flowers down.

“The police attended, for what reason I will never know, approached victims and survivors of an atrocity and commenced to harass, push and assault man, woman and child.”

Mr Murphy added: “The only disorderly behaviour that happened on the Ormeau Road today was by the police who had no right to be there and who have wreaked havoc on community relations both in the Ormeau Road and in the wider community.”

Ms O’Neill, vice president of Sinn Fein, said that the response of the PSNI to the outcry over the incident was “inadequate and insulting”.

She added: “It further adds insult to injury to the families of the victims who have been waiting almost three decades for truth about the deaths of their loved ones.

“The chief constable needs to understand the damage that the actions of his officers today has had on community confidence in policing. This standard of policing is not acceptable and should not be acceptable to any section of this community.”

Five people including a 15 year-old boy were killed and several others were injured when gunmen opened fire on customers in the Sean Graham bookmakers on 5 February 1992.

Additional reporting by Press Association

The independent

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