Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Violent attack on Newry Pride organisers treated as ‘homophobic hate crime’

A vicious city centre assault which left two members of Newry’s Pride Festival committee requiring hospital treatment is being treated as a homophobic hate crime by police. The attack took place around 2.30am last Sunday (September 4th) on Margaret Street in the city centre as a group of five Newry Rainbow Community members were returning home from the Pride Ball event in Bellini’s.

The assault followed a hugely successful Pride in Newry Festival and concert which had taken place in the city on Saturday, attracting thousands of people.

According to Damian McKevitt, secretary of Newry Rainbow Community, who was present during the attack, three men approached them as they walked along Margaret Street and began verbally abusing the group before setting upon them.  Long standing member of Newry Rainbow Community and Mr McKevitt’s partner, Padraig Lynch, was knocked to the ground in the altercation and had his head stamped on.  Mr Lynch sustained a deep cut to his face requiring stitches to the side of his head and lacerations on his nose while another person in the group sustained cuts and bruises to their face which also required hospital treatment.

Mr McKevitt, said the incident was “a completely unprovoked and very obvious homophobic attack” precipitated by the fact that Mr Lynch was wearing a rainbow jacket.

The Newry Rainbow Secretary has since lodged a formal complaint with the Police Ombudsman over the police response to the violent assault. He said he was “livid” about the PSNI approach and follow-up and claims two people allegedly involved in the attack were apprehended by police minutes later but were let go again.  Mr McKevitt also hit out at police failure to check on the condition of the two victims in Daisy Hill and said, “They didn’t make contact to see if the victims were alive or dead.  No one turned up and there has been no contact since.”

The shocking assault has been met with widespread condemnation. SDLP Councillor Pete Byrne said he was “shocked and disgusted” at the “savage attack” and added,

“The very essence of Pride is that everyone should be able to hold their head high and be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their sexual orientation.

“Those who committed this heinous crime will not win. Our community has stood strongly together to face down bigots before and we stand together again now. Our resolve will not be diminished by cowardly thugs.”

The SDLP Councillor said the incident had underscored the need for “a robust sexual orientation strategy that challenges homophobic behaviour and supports those who suffer as a result. The LGBT community cannot continue to wait on dawdling Executive Ministers while people are being attacked in the street.”

Adding his voice to the unanimous condemnation of the attack, Newry, Mourne and Down Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) Chairperson, Councillor Brian Quinn said,

“Everyone deserves the right to enjoy a safe night out, we have often prided ourselves in the measures we take to ensure those enjoying the offerings of our night time economy get home safe. The Policing and Community Safety Partnership has supported and developed a number of initiatives such as Newry Knights, Community Safety Wardens and worked hard to attaining the safety standards worthy of Purple Flag status.”

Councillor Quinn continued, “The PCSP takes great pride in Newry as popular night-time destination in our District and were delighted to be present and supporting the fantastic Pride celebrations on Saturday. Thankfully there are few incidents of LGBT hate crime in our area, but for the individuals who were injured in this incident, or any hate crime incident; the impact can be devastating for both themselves and their families. It is vitally important that we address all issues of hate crime and encourage people to come forward and report to the PSNI, so those responsible can be held accountable. Victims and the family and friends should also be aware there are support packages available to assist them should they require it.”

Meanwhile Chief Inspector Gillian West appealed to anyone who has information about the incident to contact police at Newry on the non-emergency number 101, quoting reference 231 04/09/16.