Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Loyalists hold picket as UDA split deepens

John Howcroft (centre) during a tour of the Tigers Bay area a few years ago. Photo: Pacemaker
John Howcroft (centre) during a tour of the Tigers Bay area a few years ago. Photo: Pacemaker

Renegade loyalists have picketed the north Belfast home of a former life sentence prisoner.

On Thursday the Belfast Telegraph revealed the development of a major bust-up within the UDA which it was claimed could tear the paramilitary group apart.

Hours later a crowd of up to 40 people gathered outside the home of John Howcroft, a close associate of north Belfast UDA 'brigadier' John Bunting.

As well as Mr Howcroft's home, at least one other property was approached and police attended.

It's thought Mr Howcroft's home was singled out simply because of its location and his association with Bunting.

"I was sitting in the house and heard a crowd coming down the street," Mr Howcroft, a member of the UDA-linked north Belfast UPRG, said. "They were shouting, 'this is the UFF, you're dead'.

"They didn't attack my home or breach the perimeter but it was aimed at creating fear."

He added: "I knew some faces – some of those I know to have been expelled."

The Belfast Telegraph recently reported that three leaders of the UDA – Jimmy Birch, John Bunting and Jackie McDonald – could no longer meet with their west Belfast counterparts because of a developing rift.

Behind-the-scenes talks took place yesterday between loyalists paramilitary leaders and police to try to prevent tensions spilling over into a street conflict.

Senior loyalists are convinced that several UDA figures on the Shankill – named to this newspaper – are manipulating a situation aimed at ousting a number of the organisation's leaders, including Bunting and McDonald.

That was yesterday strongly denied by the west Belfast UPRG which is closely aligned to the UDA on the Shankill.

They contacted this newspaper to say they were "dumbfounded" by comments made from within their organisation claiming the UDA as a single entity "is finished". They said if those within the organisation had concerns they should have been dealt with internally.

Earlier this week a senior security source said: "It is no longer accurate to look upon the UDA as a single entity."

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