Three men who have apologised after an incident involving a chant mocking the murder of Michaela McAreavey have expressed concern about being subject to a “public witch hunt”.
A statement from JWB Consultancy on behalf of John Bell, Andrew McDade and Richie Beattie said a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) investigation under the Communications Act had commenced but it said it was “unclear how the elements of such an offence would be made out”.
The development comes amid the ongoing fallout from the video that emerged on social media last week. One man was interviewed by police investigating the controversial clip after voluntarily attending Dungannon PSNI station on Sunday. On Monday, officers said their investigation continued and a file would be prepared for review by prosecutors in due course.
In the clip, which was apparently filmed in an Orange Hall in greater Belfast last month, several men appear to be singing a song about the death of Mrs McAreavey. The 27-year-old teacher was strangled in her room at the Legends Hotel in Mauritius on January 10th, 2011.
Mrs McAreavey, who had married husband John 10 days earlier, was attacked after she returned to her room alone and disturbed a burglary. No one has been convicted of murdering the daughter of Gaelic football manager Mickey Harte.
The video has been widely condemned across the political landscape and the Orange Order, which called it “abhorrent”, has launched an investigation. In the latest statement, the men said they would not be confirming or denying who had been interviewed by police, insisting that anyone subject to criminal investigation was entitled to privacy.
In the statement the men, who have resigned from the Orange Order, reiterated their “complete shame and regret for their involvement in the incident”. It insisted there was no intent to broadcast the chant on social media and it was “incidentally streamed” on Facebook Live.
“In any event, regardless of whether broadcast or not, the relevant behaviour is not acceptable in any section of our society either in public or private,” said the statement. The statement said anyone facing investigation was entitled to due process and also anyone facing potential employment sanction was entitled to statutory protections in employment law.
“This is becoming a public witch hunt, inclusive of repeated death threats and there is a growing social media mob who appear to have lost all grip on reality,” the statement added. “It is time now to draw a line under this vile incident and allow any investigations to take their course.”
Responding to the incident, John McAreavey tweeted last week: “Michaela was a vessel of love, courage and dignity. “Hate can hurt, but never win.”
A PSNI spokesman said: “Our investigation into this incident is ongoing. “On 5th June we interviewed one male who attended voluntarily for interview. “A file will be prepared for review by PPS (Public Prosecution Service) in due course.”