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Accused in loyalist feud 'gun attack' is granted bail

By Alan Erwin

A loyalist alleged to have opened fire on two high-profile rivals in a bid to kill them can be released from custody, a High Court judge ruled yesterday.

Mr Justice Burgess granted John Howcroft bail after hearing claims that the men he is accused of shooting at in north Belfast "invented" their stories.

The 46-year-old is one of three men charged with attempting to murder John 'Bonzer' Boreland and Andre Shoukri.

Howcroft, of Formby Park in Belfast, was arrested along with John Bunting (47), from Stonebridge Avenue in Conlig, Co Down, and Darren McAllister (31), of Alliance Road in Belfast.

All three are also charged with possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.

Boreland and Shoukri allegedly came under gun attack as they drove through Carr's Glen Park in the Ballysillan area on August 20.

Prosecutors claim shots were fired after they got out of their car to confront a group of men who had thrown an object at the vehicle.

Bunting is alleged to have given the order "get the pieces", before his two co-accused produced handguns.

According to Shoukri's account to police, Bunting then instructed: "Right, do them."

At that point Howcroft allegedly got down on one knee and fired two shoots at the pair before they started to flee, the court was told.

Boreland was later treated in hospital for a leg wound.

All three accused deny involvement in any shooting incident, claiming the allegations have been made up.

As Howcroft mounted an application for bail yesterday his barrister described the case against him as "weak". Mark Farrell argued that the investigation was marked by "complete and utter incompetence".

He questioned why the accused were not arrested on the night of the alleged attack, adding that a police search of the area had recovered nothing.

Mr Farrell also contended that Shoukri and Boreland were "inherently unreliable".

He insisted: "The injured parties have invented a story, we say."

Granting bail, Mr Justice Burgess ordered Howcroft to keep out of parts of Belfast and have no contact with the alleged victims.

He must also abide by a night-time curfew and electronic tagging conditions.

A £1,000 cash surety is to be lodged before he can be released.

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