A woman left fighting for her life after being shot five times by the UVF is the victim of a smear campaign by paramilitaries attempting to justify the brutal attack, it has been claimed.
Care worker Jemma McGrath (24) was shot in the lower abdomen, left arm and both legs at a property in east Belfast last Wednesday night.
Ms McGrath is reported to be a former partner of east Belfast UVF leader Stephen Matthews.
Sources in the east of the city said paramilitaries had been spreading malicious rumours about Ms McGrath just prior to her shooting.
And they said older members of the organisation were struggling to control younger members involved in drug-dealing, racketering and violence.
According to Sunday newspaper reports, police first warned Ms McGrath of a loyalist threat on her life last July.
She subsequently moved to north Belfast with a partner but when that relationship ended a fortnight ago she returned to the east of the city, where she was staying with a friend.
Ms McGrath is said to be considering leaving Northern Ireland when she is fit to leave hospital.
She was confronted in Lord Street Mews and shot in the stomach before the gunmen fled down an alleyway to Trillick Street.
Neighbours spoke of hearing her screams of agony and said many people in the street felt terrorised.
Ms McGrath is being treated at the Royal Victoria Hospital for her injuries, which police said were not life-threatening.
A spokeswoman for the hospital last night described her condition as stable.
Ms McGrath's mother Linda was unavailable for comment last night. She lives in the Templemore area. Her neighbours were yesterday reluctant to talk about the attack on Ms McGrath.
Police are treating the shooting as attempted murder.
Detectives said they are following "several lines of inquiry".
The shooting has had a huge impact on the volatile loyalist community in east Belfast.
Councillor John Kyle of the PUP – which historically has links to the UVF – said: "This shows new levels of brutality on the part of thugs in east Belfast.
"It is an absolute disgrace what is going on."