Sunday Life

How the loyalist thug squads have beaten a path to north Down and Ards

By Alan Murray
25 July 2004

THE growing scourge of loyalist paramilitary activity in one of Northern Ireland's most prosperous regions can be revealed today by Sunday Life.

Figures, provided by the PSNI, reveal the creeping influence of the UDA and UVF terror groups on the North Down and Ards areas, since the 1994 ceasefires were declared.

From just six incidents reported to police in 1994, the volume of paramilitary beatings and shootings has soared to 32 in both District Command Units.

The new police figures show there were 20 recorded incidents in the Ards DCU area, last year, and 12 recorded in North Down.

It emphasises how loyalist paramilitaries have wormed their way into housing estates in both areas and gained control.

Jim Shannon, chairman of the Ards District Policing Partnership, said he was shocked at the figures.

"I knew we were experiencing more paramilitary activity, but I didn't realise there had been so many assaults and shootings in the Ards District Command Unit,"he said, when Sunday Life revealed the details to him.

The DUP man said the statistics were clear evidence of how loyalists were terrorising ordinary people for their own criminal ends.

"They terrorise everyone in the community to impose their form of injustice and it's totally unacceptable.

"Last week, three women were terrified in the Scrabo estate, when a gang attempted to break into their home and their neighbours on either side were also terrified.

"The police responded quickly, but by the time they arrived the thugs had gone," Mr Shannon said.

From just one beating and one shooting, recorded in the Ards area, in 1994, loyalist punishment attacks rose to double figures by 2001, after creeping up during the 1990s.

In 2001 there were 12 reported beatings and four shootings, and a similar number the following year.

By last year, shootings had risen to 12 and eight beatings were also carried out.

Two men were murdered in the area by paramilitaries in the last two years, including LVF drugs lord, Stephen Warnock.

In the North Down DCU area paramilitary shootings jumped from four in 1994, to 13 in 2001, with six beatings also recorded.

Last year, the reported shootings had fallen to just two, but there were 10 paramilitary assaults recorded.

And, UVF/Red Hand Commando racketeer, Jim Johnston, was shot dead by other paramilitaries at his luxury Crawfordsburn home.

Tony Hill, chairman of the North Down DPP, blamed the growing paramilitary influence in the area on an influx of figures from east Belfast in particular.

"I think that is one factor that has impacted on our area over recent years. There's also the drugs situation. Some people have been displaced from east Belfast because of paramilitary activity, and they've been allocated homes in the area by the Housing Executive, and they've brought their activities with them," the Alliance councillor said.

But, Tony Hill said there was one bright light of hope emerging in the Kilcooley area, where a restorative justice programme has been started.

"There's been a reduction in the number of knee-cappings and beatings as a result of that initiative, and it's very encouraging, but overall the figures you have presented are very concerning for the whole North Down area, and the law abiding people who live here," he said.

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