29/07/2010

Asda Executive's 'Killer' Meeting Welcomed

There was an emotional conclusion to a meeting between two senior executives from the US-based Asda parent company Walmart this week and the family of two brothers murdered during The Troubles by one of its current Belfast employees.

Billy Hunter, who works in the Shore Road store, was jailed for the 1975 murders in the nearby Mount Vernon estate.

He came to prominence when he was sacked for commenting about a loyalist song at work but was then reinstated after local protests.

Yesterday, the family of victims John and Thomas McErlean saw a resolution of sorts to their demand to meet top Asda executives following the controversy.

They were upset at the prominence given to the brothers' killer who were then work colleagues of Hunter.

He lured them to a flat in the loyalist estate to play poker in a notorious sectarian plot to target Catholics that ended when he then shot them both in the head.

Asda Operations Director Mark Ibbottson and Rick Bendal, a senior Walmart executive in the United States, met the McErlean family at a west Belfast hotel on Wednesday.
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Afterwards, both parties said the issue had been resolved satisfactorily.

"We are all very pleased with the outcome of the meeting and for their understanding and sympathetic attitude to us all," Gerard McErlane told the BBC.

"We hope this episode in our life is now over," he said, after it was explained how Hunter was reinstated to his job earlier this month and the McErlean family had been given the opportunity to speak out about the hurt they felt at the local support Mr Hunter had received.

Sinn Féin Representative Niall Ó Donnghaile and Gerry Kelly welcomed the meeting with Stormont Junior Minister Mr Kelly commenting: "I commend once again the dignity and courage shown by the McErlane's over the course of recent days and weeks."

Mr Ó Donnghaile added: "I have spoken with members of the McErlane family who are content with the outcome. They are deserving of our utmost respect for the position they have taken during the course of this issue.

"It is good news that they can now move on, contented after the meeting today with the most senior executives from Asda who flew in to meet them."

(BMcC/GK)

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