Outrage as top Loyalist is ‘fast-tracked’ for appeal

The Andersonstown News can exclusively reveal that top loyalist gangster Andre Shoukri is scheduled to have his case heard before the Court of Appeal on September 16.

Incredibly, Shoukri’s appeal is listed for hearing less than a year after he was first caught with a gun by the PSNI, according to legal sources.

On September 21 last year, Shoukri – whose previous convictions included extortion and malicious wounding – was stopped at a PSNI checkpoint at the Rathcoole estate in North Belfast.

The PSNI discovered that the loyalist hood was concealing a Walther pistol with 30 rounds of ammunition stuffed inside a sock.

Shoukri – the most senior member of the UDA/UFF in North Belfast – was then charged and remanded in custody to Maghaberry Prison.

On October 24, 2002, he unsuccessfully applied for bail.

During that court hearing a PSNI officer linked Shoukri to sectarian murders, attempted murders, intimidation, drugs, racketeering, moving counterfeit goods and orchestrating public disorder.

Amazingly, within three months Shoukri was back out on the streets.

The convicted thug was released after a second bail application on January 14, 2003.

Justice Nicholson stated that he was not satisfied the prosecution had made a case that Shoukri would be a danger to others if released on bail.

Accordingly, Shoukri was freed on £6,000 bail and a number of conditions were imposed on him.

Most of these conditions – including a night-time curfew and a fixed address – were subsequently rescinded on appeal to the High Court.

Shoukri maintained a high profile during the following five months of freedom, even finding time for a widely publicised street brawl outside a Belfast city centre nightclub on May 17, 2003.

A month later Shoukri’s full trial began at Belfast Crown Court.

And, on July 1, the notorious loyalist was sensationally acquitted of intent to endanger life – despite being found guilty of illegally possessing the Walther pistol and ammunition.

Sentencing Shoukri to six years imprisonment, Justice McCollum said the obtaining of the weapon was “tainted with a suspicion of criminal activity”.

Within days, lawyers acting for Shoukri had applied for bail once again, pending an appeal against the conviction.

Although this bail application was denied, Shoukri’s right of appeal was ‘fast-tracked’ for listing in early September.

One informed source said yesterday that the nature of the ‘fast-track’ appeal was “very quick, if not unprecedented”.

Following Shoukri’s imprisonment in July, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Martin Morgan, expressed his concern about the handling of the case.

“The justice system under these circumstances needs to pay close attention to previous criminal offences, as in this case this sentence did not reflect the previous convictions of a man who quite clearly wears his badge on his sleeve,” said Mayor Morgan.

The treatment of Shoukri contrasts with the case of another North Belfast man, John O’Hagan.

Mr O’Hagan, from the nationalist New Lodge area, has now been on remand in Maghaberry Prison for seventeen months charged with possessing documents that could be useful to terrorists.

Despite raising £10,000 bail money and securing character references from a local priest, Mr O’Hagan has been refused bail at the High Court on five separate occasions.

When Shoukri’s appeal begins, he will have been arrested, charged, bailed, tried and his appeal started in the space of less than a year. Legal eagles are currently examining records to see if any other case has ever been processed so quickly.

Shoukri Fact file

September 21, 2002
Shoukri is caught red-handed with a pistol and ammunition at Rathcoole. He is charged and remanded to Maghaberry Prison.
October 24, 2002
Shoukri unsuccessfully applies for bail. A PSNI officer links him to widespread loyalist paramilitary activity in North Belfast.
January 14, 2003
Shoukri successfully applies for bail. Most of his bail conditions are subsequently rescinded on appeal.
July 1, 2003
Shoukri is acquitted of intent to endanger life, but found guilty of the lesser charge of illegal possession of a weapon and ammunition.
September 16, 2003
Shoukri’s appeal is ‘fast-tracked’ and scheduled for hearing less than a year after he was caught red-handed by the PSNI.

Journalist: Jarlath Kearney

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