A man who removed a loyalist hate banner which paid tribute to a sectarian killer has been sent for trial on charges of theft.
Frank McGirr is accused of taking the banner from a street light in June 2017. He was told the banner featuring the UVF man Wesley Somerville in the County Tyrone village of Moygashel was valued at 150 pounds.
Somerville and fellow UVF killer Harris Boyle - who were also members of the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment - died while carrying out the Miami Showband massacre in July 1975. They died after their own bomb exploded, killing both, while the rest of the UVF gang opened fire on the band members, murdering three.
In May, Mr McGirr appeared in a wheelchair at Dungannon Magistrates Court charged with theft of the banner. At that time, he did not enter a plea, instead electing to have the matter proceed to a higher court.
The continuing prosecution of the case against Mr McGirr comes after a summer in which the PSNI were accused of acting in concert with loyalist paramilitaries in other hate crimes. They helped erect banners in support of the Bloody Sunday massacre soldier known as ‘Soldier F’.
The PSNI’s protection of the Somerville banner, an annual controversy, is also in line with the force’s policing of this summer’s loyalist bonfires. The PSNI caused a scandal after they backed down in the face of UVF threats against the lives of contractors tasked with removing bonfire material from a leisure centre at Avoniel in Belfast in July.
The PSNI agreed with loyalist figures, including one man alleged to be the leader of the east Belfast UVF, to allow the bonfire to go ahead as planned.
And this week, the PSNI were also seen to back away when UVF threatened a contractor involved in work at a second leisure centre where sectarian loyalist bonfires have taken place. The contractor was prevented from building a perimeter fence at the site due to paramilitaty threats.
A group which claims to “mediate on behalf of ex-combatants formerly linked to the East Belfast UVF” said they had been working find a “solution”.
The PSNI refused to accept that threats had been made against the contractors, even after one nationalist councillor described the situation as “vile intimidation”.