PSNI officers will not be prosecuted over arrest at commemoration

Mark Sykes was controversially arrested at commemoration event of loyalist shooting

Mark Sykes – who was injured in a loyalist shooting in 1992 – was arrested after police officers intervened at a memorial event held on the 29th anniversary of the attack. File photograph: PA Wire

Mark Sykes – who was injured in a loyalist shooting in 1992 – was arrested after police officers intervened at a memorial event held on the 29th anniversary of the attack. File photograph: PA Wire

 

Two police officers who arrested the victim of a loyalist gun attack at a commemoration in Belfast earlier this year will not be prosecuted.

The North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced on Wednesday that a decision had been taken not to prosecute the officers in connection with the incident on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast in February.

Mark Sykes – who was injured when loyalists shot five people dead in Sean Graham’s bookmakers in 1992 – was arrested after police officers intervened at a memorial event held on the 29th anniversary of the attack.

At the time strict Covid-19 rules were in place around public gatherings.

The handcuffing and arrest of Mr Sykes was deeply controversial and led to calls for the Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, to resign. He apologised, and one of the officers was suspended and the other moved to another role.

Mr Sykes subsequently complained to the Police Ombudsman, which resulted in two officers being investigated for alleged assault.

The assistant director of the PPS, Martin Hardy, said he recognised the sensitivities surrounding the police response to the annual commemoration.

The PSNI officers – who were not aware of the background to the gathering and came across it whilst on patrol – approached the event in light of potential breaches of the Covid-19 legislation in place at the time.

This led to an incident between civilians and police which resulted in Mr Sykes’ arrest.

Mr Hardy said that having “carefully considered the available evidence” the PPS had decided there was “insufficient evidence to prove that the actions of the officers in arresting the civilian, and applying handcuffs to him, were unlawful.

“Separate consideration was given to whether an omission to remove the handcuffs after a period of time had passed could amount to an assault by a police officer.

“Again, after a thorough examination of all matters, it was concluded that the Test for Prosecution is not met for any assault arising from that aspect of the complaint,” he said.

Mr Hardy said the complainant had received detailed reasons for the decision not to prosecute, and an offer to meet to address any further questions.

“We are acutely aware of the deep sensitivities attached to this case, and the distress caused to the complainant through being arrested at an event to remember an atrocity which those present were so directly and profoundly impacted by,” Mr Hardy said.

“I would like to reassure the public that these decisions were taken impartially and after a full consideration of all relevant matters.”