PSNI told Asda bosses: Don’t remove tributes to sectarian killer

In today’s Irish News*, Connla Young reports that it was the PSNI that advised Asda not to remove tributes to UVF man Billy Hunter from outside their Shore Road store:

Seaneen McErlane, a daughter of John’s, says her family have no objections to ordinary tributes and cards left in memory of Hunter. She said she had a “major issue” with Asda and police facilitating “a UVF poppy wreath to remain on their premises for a period of a week”.

“This was the organisation to which Mr Hunter belonged and that executed my father and uncle and he was totally unrepentant,” Ms McErlane said. “Given that the McErlane family in 2010 received a guarantee that no such situation would ever be allowed to be tolerated on their premises Asdahave denied their principles.”

Ms McErlane also voiced her disappointment with police. “It is the job of the PSNI to remove any paraphernalia which causes intimidation or incitement to hatred and yet these objects remained,” she said. “I have experienced an extreme sense of disappointment that in this day and age and in the midst of a so-called ceasefire one can only reach the conclusion that this country is still dictated by paramilitary organisations.” In the days before Hunter’s funeral politicians criticised police for allowing loyalists to close off Shore Road during a vigil in memory of the killer.

Police confirmed that they had “liaised” with Asda. “Police were made aware of tributes being left outside the store on the Shore Road,” a spokeswoman said. “As is normal procedure with any tributes left after any death, items and messages are allowed to be left by the local community before being passed to the family of the deceased.

“Police would only ever remove a tribute if we received a complaint from the family. “We can confirm the PSNI did liaise closely with the store on this matter.”

Previously, the PSNI were criticised by Mary Ellen Campbell (Sinn Féin) and Alban Magennis (SDLP) for facilitating the unannounced loyalist vigil outside the store that blocked the Shore Road (e.g. see The Irish News, 31/8/12). A Facebook group that was subsequently set-up, Boycott Asda-Shore Road, currently has 7,292 members and is open (so anyone can read posts) and states:

I’m calling on all members of this group to boycott the Shore Road branch of Asda for their continued support of loyalist sectarian killer Billy Hunter and letting their premises be used as a shrine to the unrepentant murderer!!!

The Facebook group also includes some background information written by Seaneen McErlane, John’s daughter, who has been remarkably restrained throughout (read through the comments on the Facebook page for both the trolls and her responses).

In response to all of this, there is now an Asda/Walmart Appreciation Day on Facebook (currently with 1646 members) that proclaims:

Celebrate Saturday, 27th October as Asda/Walmart Appreciation Day, a perfect time to purchase items for our Reformation Sunday celebrations on the following day!!!!

Show respect for the memory of Billy Hunter, support his family and his community, a gratitude for Asda and their parent company Walmart for not caving in to Fenian thuggery!!!!

Sic Separabit?!?!?

The Appreciation Day pages are a closed group, so only members can read posts.

Connla Young continues*:

Asda and Walmart’s decision not to engage so far with the family of John and Thomas McErlane will be criticised by many. No doubt some observers will view their delayed reaction as disrespectful. Their reason for not meeting the McErlanes to date could be the product of what some will see as a misplaced strategy of believing that if they keep their heads down the problem will go away. Seaneen McErlane has remained dignified since her father’s killer, Billy Hunter, took his own life in dramatic circumstances last month. Her measured use of language and reasonable requests will have impressed onlookers and won her sympathy in many quarters.

However, the question many will ask is: Will the company’s top executives wait until they are forced to literally count the cost of their delayed reaction before they decide to grant this grieving family an explanation for the decisions they have made since Billy Hunter’s death?

This is a story that seems to be playing out more on social media than traditional. With that in mind, even Connla may be behind the pace here as there are claims on the Boycott Asda Facebook group that takings at the Shore Road ASDA were down £150,000 last week (the first week of the boycott) which is believed to be around 10-15%. Some are now even calling for a Global Boycott of Asda-Walmart to highlight the case (there is also a Boycott Asda twitter account).

If that is true, that might finally get the attention of Asda-Walmart since this doesn’t seem to be a problem that will just go away.


*The Irish News is paywalled, as ever, but the text above is from page 8 of the print edition.