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.

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  • Mick,

    There can only be one primary source for what caused the suicide of Mr. Hunter and that was himself. Since he didn’t explain to anyone or leave a note, the matter is undecidable.
    The same may be true for understanding the reason he did the murders although there should be primary sources for that; accomplices before and after the fact.

  • Mick Fealty

    Henrik Ibsen (1881):

    “There must be ghosts all over the country. They lie thick as grains of sand. And we’re all so horribly afraid of the light.”

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    Dec:A quick google search brought up this excerpt from a report from the BT, July 2010:

    Hunter was sentenced to life for what the trail judge described as “a dastardly act”, but was freed 14 years later. During the trial it emerged he and others had spent months trying to lure the victims to Mount Vernon.

    .
    Hi Dec, please expand on this.

    Who made the claim?

    A McErlane family member?

    The prosecuting legal team?

    Why would they need to ‘spend months luring the brothers to Mount Vernon’ when they went there every Friday to play cards (as reported at the time in all three papers and at the official inquest into the deaths in 1975)?

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    John Ó Néill: DDB – for the last time – if the family say there never was a card school, they have no reason to say otherwise

    .
    Well if they are trying to make Billy Hunter out to be an evil, sectarian monster and get him sacked from his job (as the McErlane brother stated in one interview with the Irish News) then they may consider ‘sexing up’ the narrative.

    The claim about there being no card school is at odds with ALL media reporting at the time, all witness accounts, police statements and the official inquest into the deaths. The claim only surfaced once the Irish News began their campaign against Billy Hunter.

    Seaneen McErlane was two when the killings took place – I would place more credence on the eyewitness statements and media reports than on claims made by still-grieving relatives.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    babyface finlayson: Firstly, I am not saying your theory has no merit. It is possible that unwanted publicity after all those years may have contributed to his suicide.
    The trouble is you can’t know if it did, anymore than I can know if it didn’t.
    As you yourself said, only a suicide note (or a diary) would clear that up.

    .
    That’s like saying a jury can’t convict someone of murder because they didn’t see the accused actually fire the gun at the victim.

    There is clearly enough evidence here that the Irish News vendetta against Billy Hunter went well over the top. The fact that he lived peacefully for eighteen years before the Irish News started hounding him and then took his own life shortly after – combined with the OTT coverage – is enough to credibly say it played a significant role in his death.

  • Mick Fealty

    DDB,

    Whilst I appreciate the work you’ve put into this, be careful you don’t stray into playing the man. If we’ve learned anything from Hunter’s horrific suicide it is surely to tread carefully where the feelings of others are concerned.

    That does not preclude tough challenging of course. We *do* know that Hunter was convicted of double murder. That much is beyond dispute. And whether or not he set them up does not mitigate that conviction.

    What you have legitimately raised (and it’s taken over 200 comments to get a decent hearing) is that some of these killers have suffered themselves over the suffering they’ve handed out, and in this case it has been met with what I can only describe as ‘a severe lack of public understanding’.

    This is where there are legs in the idea that ‘everyone is a victim’. Mr Hunter is now almost indisputably in that class. But would Jackie McDonald be included? Hunter was a convicted murderer, and McDonald only convicted of extortion.

    Yet McD – who was by far the more senior figure within a Loyalist terrorist grouping – plays golf at the K Club with the President’s husband, and Hunter is excoriated for a crime for which he has already fully served a conviction.

    World indeed is turned upside down.

    If you go for broad classifications of victims (which are essentially post hoc political attempts to cover tracks), you miss the fact that some killers were and remain highly vulnerable human beings. Others less so.

    Everywhere there are ghosts, not just those who died on the spot, but those whose lives were changed unalterably and who are not documented in great works like Lost Lives. Most of them were innocent.

    If there is no such a thing as ‘a hierarchy of victims’ then it should mean something in reality (as opposed to politics). For me, this story is as much about a hidden (and possibly huge) mental health legacy.

    If the word ‘victims’ actually meant anything in Peace Process parlance, then some thought would be given to the needs of all those who were touched by thirty years of dirty war, both the innocent and perpetrators.

    But, as Ibsen puts it, “we’re all so horribly afraid of the light.”

  • Pickled_Peppers

    “Well if they are trying to make Billy Hunter out to be an evil, sectarian monster….”
    How was he not when he murdered two of the family members for sectarian reasons…not one, but two brothers.

  • jthree

    I think what Mick hints at is that is hard to overestimate the extent to which people generally do not give a shit about the ‘plight’ of former prisoners or their ‘reputations.’

    Ask most people oustide ‘connected’ circles and they may actively wish ill-will on people who made the decision to hurt and kill.

    Billy Hunter torched himself – boo hoo.

    Dolores Price is a pathetic drunk – so what?

  • Mick Fealty

    Yes, that. But we also have a bad dose of collective cognitive polyphasia; particularly within ‘da media’. Contempt is reserved almost entirely for the weak. The strong demand, and generally receive, respect, even when they are talking nonsense.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    jthree: I think what Mick hints at is that is hard to overestimate the extent to which people generally do not give a shit about the ‘plight’ of former prisoners or their ‘reputations.’

    Ask most people oustide ‘connected’ circles and they may actively wish ill-will on people who made the decision to hurt and kill.

    Billy Hunter torched himself – boo hoo.

    Dolores Price is a pathetic drunk – so what?

    .
    The problem is, where the Irish News is concerned they make a real difference between protestant ex-prisoners and catholic ones.

    Take their 2 1/2 year vendetta against Billy Hunter – who took part in one single paramilitary incident in his life, done his time and emerged from prison to play a positive role in his community and work an honest 9-to-5 job. He didn’t think anybody owed him a living (unlike many ex-Provos) and for the rest of his life had no further involvement with any UVF activities. From his friendships with the likes of Ken Wilkinson from the PUP and the DUP’s Guy Spence we can also presume he was committed to and supportive of the peace and political process we have today.

    Compare how he was hounded by the Irish News to the treatment received another convicted murderer – Marian Price. Unlike Billy Hunter, Price is committed to destroying the peace process, is supportive of current Irish Nationalist terrorism (judging by her repeated appearance at dissident IRA parades, funerals and rallies) and is currently facing charges connected to two cold blooded murders in 2009.

    How does the Irish News treat Marian Price?

    It says she must be immediately released from prison.

    So, what’s the difference between pro-peace convicted killer Billy Hunter and anti-peace convicted killer Marian Price and why are they treated in a totally different way by the Irish News?

    Answer: Their religious background.

  • DDB, you ask how the Irish News has treated Marion Price and give as your answer, `It says she must be immediately released from prison.’

    However, the cutting you offer as evidence make it absolutely clear that you are citing the view of one individual columnist and not providing an editorial from the paper

    As a reader, I know that the Irish News has columnists who are nationalist, unionist and unaligned. They express conflicting arguments all the time, which presumably you would regard as healthy.

    How can you possibly conclude that the paper is editorially supporting one of its columnists and rejecting the opinions of all others ?

  • Mick Fealty

    Quite so oldhack. If you looked into the Price case with same diligence you have with Hunter you could not come to such an easy and generalised conclusion.

  • DC

    I think DDB is to be commended for his efforts in moving the debate beyond the narrative of ‘the operatives’ and there was a point to made which has now been made, maybe not to the extent that was originally stressed however.

    The Irish News imo is a paper which paints loyalists on the wrong side of history (despite republicans murdering more and the country being bankrupt) and also attempts to paint such people as feral as and when appropriate, which most recently was from a picture of a bandsman taking a leak outside a chapel. OK the Covenant didn’t pass off without incident but for a street politics event of around 32,000 the Irish News can have that ‘outrageous’ photo.

    There are parts of loyalist culture that needs rehabilitated and brought into the 21st century but must it be brought about through shock-talk / shock stories, mocking, poking and stigmatising communities in the process. If so it will only be counter-productive.

  • Covenanter

    shock-talk / shock stories, mocking, poking and stigmatising communities in the process.

    DC,

    They were doing exactly the same thing in 1912. The Irish News at the time lampoooned unionists, the Covenant and the UVF etc. One of the common traits of nationalism throughout the ages has been they way they have treated unionists with complete contempt and have consistently underestimated them. An excellent present dayt example of that sort of journalism can be seen from the likes of Jude Collins and Brian Feeney.

  • Mick Fealty

    C,

    One of the common traits of nationalism throughout the ages has been they way they have treated unionists with complete contempt and have consistently underestimated them.

    This is not something that I would have subscribed pre Slugger, but a lot of what I’ve seen on these digital pages since would tend to confirm that general view and that last clause in particular.

  • Covenanter

    Mick,

    The period 1912 to 1922 and beyond is rich in evidence of that sort of attitude. The underlying message was “These idiots are full of bombast and bluster, but when we get the whiphand they will quickly fall into line.”

    That is exactly the same message that the Sinners have been pumping out since the seventies.

  • GavBelfast

    Of course, The Irish News also supported Franco and his fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

    It, too, has been on the wrong side of history …..

  • babyface finlayson

    Covenanter
    “An excellent present day example of that sort of journalism can be seen from the likes of Jude Collins and Brian Feeney.”
    While trying to avoid manplaying I have to say I do find the sneering tone depressing. Andytown News is bad for it, with all that stuff about ‘Trevors’ and so on, something Jude Collins is prone to also.
    I guess it is supposed to be satire, and it pleases the target audience, but I can’t think of anyone doing the same in the Unionist leaning papers. No doubt someone will correct me.

  • Mick Fealty

    That would be Squinter’s line, who’s a column– no, wait…

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    oldhack: DDB, you ask how the Irish News has treated Marion Price and give as your answer, `It says she must be immediately released from prison.’

    However, the cutting you offer as evidence make it absolutely clear that you are citing the view of one individual columnist and not providing an editorial from the paper

    As a reader, I know that the Irish News has columnists who are nationalist, unionist and unaligned. They express conflicting arguments all the time, which presumably you would regard as healthy.

    How can you possibly conclude that the paper is editorially supporting one of its columnists and rejecting the opinions of all others ?

    .
    Sorry oldhack, but you are totally incorrect – and here’s why:

    1, Allison Morris is not a ‘columnist’ in the same vein as Feeney, Gibney or Garland. She is a senior journalist employed full-time by the Irish News and writes multiple articles on a daily basis (including today’s front page, for example).

    2, Even if she were a ‘columnist’ in the same vein as Feeney, Gibney or Garland, your point about ‘conflicting arguments’ does not stand up to scrutiny because we have yet to see any kind of opposite opinion printed by the Irish News. There hasn’t been a ‘Marian Price should be locked up and throw away the key’ piece – unless my eyes are deceiving me…

    3, I have also yet to see an Irish News opinion piece calling for the release of Michael Stone – who suffers from severe physical (and possibly mental?) illness as opposed to the claims that Marian Price seems to be ‘a bit depressed’. Why the different approach towards the two ill prisoners??

    4, It’s not just the linked article which gives the pro-Marian Price vibe in the Irish News – there are weekly articles about her treatment in prison and weekly editor’s letters calling for her release also (despite the fact she is currently facing serious terrorist charges relating to two sectarian murders).

    5, I’m not sure who in the IN opinion stable you are classing as ‘Unionist’? Roy Garland’s watered-down, very very pale orange slant is no mirror image of the sectarian tripe and propaganda peddled by Feeney, Gibney and a few others. Where is the Unionist columnist to genuinely question Nationalist attitudes and opinions in the way Nelson McCausland’s blog or someone like Cruimh over on politics.ie can do? Alex Kane certainly isn’t the answer……

    Now, seeing as I seem to be one of the few on this blog actually presenting evidence to back my points, perhaps you’d like to come back with some proof the next time you want to challenge one of my posts?

  • jthree

    I’m increasingly at a loss as to what DDB is seeking to prove.

    That a newspaper has a partisan agenda? So what? Most newspapers in the world (beyond the Metro and its like) have a clear sense of what’s important or interesting to their readers and deploy their reporting and editorial resources accordingly. So long as they do so within the bounds of the civil and criminal law and any regulatory constraints that is fine.

    The Irish News is free to pursue a loyalist killer just as the Newsletter is free to pursue its madcap quest to prove the Irish government is 100% responsible for the Troubles and the Bel Tel is free to tell us a housing recovery is just around the corner.

    Not all to everyones taste but the alternative is having the papers proof read by Duncan Morrrow and Eileen Lavery.

  • Mick Fealty

    DDB,

    You are now doing what you’ve just accused a lot of other people doing, which is making a leap of faith without putting in the legwork.

    You’re also in danger of suggesting people are wrong because they don’t share your world view.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    jthree:I’m increasingly at a loss as to what DDB is seeking to prove.

    You obviously haven’t read the thread then.

    I’ll keep it simple for you:

    Convicted killer ‘A’ serves their prison sentence, gets released, has no further involvement in law-breaking, works an honest 9-to-5 job, volunteers with the elderly and disabled in their community and is supportive of Northern Ireland’s peace process.

    Convicted killer ‘B’ serves their sentence, gets released, allegedly re-involves themselves in criminal behaviour, encourages terrorism, provides property for the use of terrorism and works daily to destroy the Northern Ireland peace process.

    The Irish News launches a vindictive, personal campaign against ‘A’ which includes 44 articles and 10 front pages within 2 1/2 years. ‘A’ commits suicide during this campaign.

    ‘B’ – who is currently facing serious terrorist charges – should be released from prison.

    ‘A’ was a protestant.

    ‘B’ is a catholic.

    Geddit?

  • jthree

    Yes I get your point – but still, so what?

    The Irish News is free to make partisan editorial decisions just as the Newsletter, the Bel Tel and the Shitsville Weekly Courier are.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    I see the Irish News have no intention of letting this man rest in peace.

    Another front page article today manages to shoehorn Billy Hunter’s name and photo into a story which has nothing to do with him.

    The Irish News hounded him to his death – are they simply continuing this campaign against him for their own personal gratification?