Spin City

• PSNI’s amazing briefing to journalists
• Arrests take place days before review

PSNI sources briefed journalists last night that four arrests made in West Belfast yesterday in connection with the hunt for an IRA punishment squad were “down to good intelligence.” But just minutes later one of the men – a teenage carer from New Barnsley arrested in a raid on the home of his frail 84-year-old grandmother – was released.

The amazing briefing, in which faceless cops effectively boasted that they had the right men even before any of the four had been interviewed, came just five days before the start of next week’s crucial review of the Good Friday Agreement. The raids – and the subsequent PSNI briefings – have brought back memories of other briefing frenzies which accompanied high-profile raids and arrests at times of high political drama. • Arrests in connection with the Castlereagh break-in March 2002 came days before the second act of IRA decommissioning. • The simultaneous raids on Sinn Féin’s Stormont offices and homes in West Belfast in October 2002 came as unionists were demanding that the Executive be brought down. It collapsed two weeks later.


The family of an 84-year-old grandmother have hit out angrily at what they say were heavy-handed tactics used by the PSNI following searches of homes in the New Barnsley and Ballymurphy areas yesterday and the arrest of four men.

The PSNI moved in with search warrants on a number of homes in the area just after 7.30 on Wednesday morning.

A PSNI source claimed later the arrests were in connection with Provisional IRA punishment attacks, adding that the raids and arrests were the result of “good intelligence”. The briefing angered the families who say the arrests were politically motivated, coming as they do just days before the review of the Good Friday Agreement.

One of the homes targeted in the raids was that of Margaret O’Rawe, a New Barnsley grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s and has to have round-the-clock care.

A number of items were taken away from Mrs O’Rawe’s home and her 19-year-old grandson, Eamonn McLaughlin, was arrested and taken to Antrim holding centre.

Mrs O’Rawe’s daughter, Kate, says her mother has been so traumatised by the events that she’s now under doctor’s orders.

“My mother is very ill and not able to deal with this type of situation.
“There were police, army and forensics all over her house. The mess is awful and my mother is in a terrible state.

“She gets very confused and it’s hard to explain to her just what is going on.
“They arrested my 19-year-old son who is my mother’s carer and stays with her at night in case she wanders off.

“When I asked them why they were taking him they said because my mother was too old or they would have taken her,” Kate added.

“It was like going back in time to the 70s. There was absolutely no need for the amount of PSNI and British army that entered this street, and all to search the home of a sick pensioner.”

In all five homes were raided and four people, including Eamonn McLaughlin, arrested.

Sinn Féin councillor Marie Moore was present at the scene and later visited the O’Rawe family.

“This was heavy-handed policing aimed at intimidating local people,” said Marie Moore.

“Mrs O’Rawe is not a well woman and has been deeply traumatised by the day’s events. Her family are angry and they have every right to feel this way in the circumstances.”

Last night speculation was mounting in republicans circles over the identity of the PSNI investigation teams at the centre of yesterday’s raids.

One informed observer said that questions would be asked over the raids: “This pattern of high-profile raids, orchestrated media briefings and politically well-timed arrests has happened before. It will be very interesting to see which investigators – working on foot of so-called intelligence – have their paw-prints over this one,” said the observer.

A spokesperson for the PSNI said: “Four men have been arrested in connection with serious crime in the greater Belfast area, the arrests follow searches at a number of addresses in west Belfast earlier today.”

Eamonn McLaughlin was released at teatime last night without charge.

Journalist:: Allison Morris

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