Officer suspended after Troubles memorial arrest

David Young, PA
·3-min read

An officer has been suspended following the controversial arrest of a Troubles survivor at a memorial event, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has said.

Mr Byrne said another officer had been repositioned, as he apologised to all those who were present or had been affected by what they had seen on social media.

Mark Sykes, who was shot several times in the loyalist massacre at a betting shop in Belfast in 1992, was later released after Friday’s incident on the city’s Ormeau Road.

Angry exchanges unfolded at the wreath-laying anniversary event for the five people killed in the Sean Graham bookmakers attack, when police intervened amid suspicions the gathering breached lockdown rules.

At a press conference  on Saturday, Mr Byrne told reporters: “Following the events in the Ormeau Road yesterday and the commencement of the ombudsman investigation, we’ve been able to establish today a number of things.

“Firstly, that the police did not attempt to stop the commemoration event at the Ormeau Road.

“That said, we have carefully had the opportunity today to review the totality of the incident, that led to the events we’ve seen on social media.

“Having looked at the totality of what we have seen on the police body-worn video, which records things that have not yet been seen in the public domain, we recognise that the events that have taken place do not reflect the values of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

“Consequently, we have taken the decision this evening to suspend one of the officers involved and to reposition a second officer whilst the ombudsman completes her investigations and is able to make her own determinations.”

Mr Sykes has condemned his arrest.

“The only thing I had in my hands was flowers, that my three-year-old granddaughter had lain at her uncle’s memorial,” he said in a statement released by campaign group Relatives for Justice.

Five people, including a 15-year-old boy, were murdered and several others injured in February 1992 when Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) opened fire at the bookies.

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

Police said officers took action after witnessing a crowd of “between 30 to 40” attending an event.

Public gatherings of more than six people are currently prevented under Covid-19 lockdown regulations in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s police ombudsman has launched an investigation into how the police operation was handled.

Mr Sykes contrasted the scenes on the Ormeau Road with the lack of arrests made by the police earlier in the week when a gang of masked men gathered in Pitt Park in east Belfast in an apparent loyalist paramilitary show of strength.