Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

UDA's Larne mob attack was aimed at brothers who stood up to terror gang

Forensic experts glimpsed through the smashed window of a car as they comb the scene in Larne's Ferris Avenue for evidence
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton confirmed police had received reports of masked men gathering in Carrickfergus one hour before the attacks.

Up to 100 masked and armed UDA men laid siege on a housing estate after two brothers stood up to the terror gang.

The huge mob, many wielding baseball bats and sledgehammers, descended on Larne on Sunday evening and set about destroying three properties in the town.

Attempts were made to set fire to at least one of the houses while the occupants were inside.

Two houses in the Ferris Avenue area, where two brothers lived, were gutted.

Dozens of masked men smashed their way into the properties. A 15-year-old girl in one of the houses was chased upstairs.

Sources said an altercation involving five men in Larne on Saturday afternoon – which left three hospitalised – was connected to Sunday's attacks.

The brothers were said to have been confronted by three men in the town and a scuffle ensued. Two arrests were made as a result of the incident.

The following night the UDA took their revenge on the brothers who refused to be driven from Larne by the paramilitary group.

They are now said to be considering moving from the area given the ferocity of Sunday's incident.

A widowed woman in her 80s, who lives next door to one of the brothers, told how she fled to the back of her home as horrific scenes unfolded yards from her door.

One mile away, at Knockdhu Park in the Co Antrim town, a man was beaten on the head with hammers as he fought to keep the gang from entering his home.

Neighbours said a young child was in the property at the time.

Yesterday residents told how members of the UDA gang were involved in hand-to-hand fighting with residents on Sunday evening, with the nightmarish scenes lasting for up to 15 minutes.

Many of those living in the areas affected were critical of the police response.

Two squad cars arrived at the scene within three minutes but the officers were attacked and driven back. One officer required hospital treatment for an eye injury after being struck by glass.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton confirmed police had received reports of masked men gathering in Carrickfergus one hour before the attacks.

Fifteen minutes after the squad car was targeted, riot police arrived in the area.

Despite the huge number of assailants, police had still not made any arrests last night.

"It was like a warzone," a resident said yesterday morning. "This place is full of young families and elderly people. It was shocking. It seemed like an eternity before police arrived and until then everybody felt helpless and just hoped they would be okay."

South East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan said police could have done more, and questioned why roadblocks were not set up to catch the culprits as they fled in the direction of Carrickfergus.

"I believe an opportunity was missed to make arrests," he said.

"I acknowledge the courage and the efforts of the police officers injured in an effort to prevent an attack on one of the homes. However, it's worrying that police were unable to apprehend any of the 70 to 100 strong mob involved in the attacks."

ACC Hamilton said police patrols in Larne would be stepped up. The senior officer, widely tipped to be the next Chief Constable, also defended the force's response to Sunday's incident.

"In a town the size of Larne, I think the number of police officers that we had available to deploy very quickly to that scenario was proportionate," he said.

"If you were the victim, you probably wouldn't see it that way, but of course resources are not endless."

Ulster Unionist MLA for the area, Roy Beggs, said it is vital anybody with information helps the police. "This is a challenge to British law and order," he said.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson added: "This cannot be allowed to happen. Larne must not drift back to the days of the past."

They swarmed in, swinging baseball bats and hammers

A widowed pensioner curled into a ball and covered her ears as dozens of masked thugs tore her neighbour's home apart.

Minutes earlier she had watched in terror as a gang clutching bats and hammers poured into the estate in which she has lived her entire life.

Children's toys, televisions and smashed-up living-room furniture were strewn across the front gardens of three properties, 12 hours after the gang wreaked havoc.

Red, white and blue kerbstones mark the entrance to Ferris Park, a staunchly loyalist estate of terraced houses close to the centre of Larne.

Those behind the cowardly attacks ironically style themselves as the custodians of the community in which they sparked terror as families gathered to mark Mother's Day.

Senior police officers backed up claims that Sunday's so-called show of strength by the renegade South-East Antrim UDA was the organisation's idea of putting down a marker to dissenters.

Two houses, belonging to brothers, were gutted at Ferris Avenue and another destroyed a short time later at Knockdhu Park, one mile away. A resident in that property was beaten with a hammer as he fought in vain to protect his family.

Yesterday morning, many of those living in both estates surveyed the damage caused hours before, and reflected on the terrifying ordeal they had endured.

An hour prior to the attacks, police received reports of large groups of masked men gathering in Carrickfergus, roughly 10 miles away.

"The assessment was they were probably meeting in Carrickfergus to go on somewhere else," Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said yesterday.

"Police identified a number of possibilities, based on recent rises in tension across east Antrim. About an hour later, we had the first attack on a house in Larne and police responded to that within three minutes."

Two patrol cars arrived at the scene at around 8.40pm.

Fifteen minutes later 25 riot police arrived, backed up with another public order unit minutes later.

Residents told how their housing estate was turned into a battleground with groups of armed and masked men running amok for up to 15 minutes.

The three houses attacked were completely gutted; windows were shattered and furniture smashed into pieces.

One car had every panel dented and window broken, with eyewitnesses telling how yobs jumped up and down on its roof.

Many were critical of the police response, with officers forced back by the mob when they first arrived in the area.

An elderly pensioner who lives close to one of the houses at Ferris Avenue said she looked out her window to see dozens of men approach in the direction of her home.

She said she ran to the back of her house as men wielding bats and sledgehammers smashed their way into the adjoining property.

"There was just crashing and yelling, it was awful," she said.

"I was closing my blinds when they just all started coming towards the house.

"I've lived here all of my life and I've never seen anything like it. It was like a horror film, I was terrified."

Another neighbour said such attacks were rare.

"The UDA used to have marches on the street but there was never any trouble," he said.

"Last night was frightening."

Pointing to one of the properties, which had smashed living-room furniture strewn across the front lawn, he added: "That couple are the first people you would go to if you needed something.

"Their wee girl is about 15. She was hysterical, running round the estate afterwards looking for her wee dog.

"Those who did this are scum, they're not loyalists."

There were conflicting theories for what sparked Sunday's attacks. Some pointed to six arrests of UDA-linked individuals in the previous week. They have been charged with offences such as threats to kill, intimidation and criminal damage.

Tensions were also said to have risen following an altercation between a group of men in the area on Saturday.

"It's extremely worrying how quickly these guys were able to mobilise and the numbers they had," one policing source told this newspaper.

"I remember similar incidents a decade ago involving the UDA, so this isn't a case of social media being used to rally numbers.

"What is also alarming is that despite the numbers involved, police had no intelligence beforehand about what was happening."

Police accused those responsible of being on a "power-trip".

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said of those involved: "These groups seem to want to have some power or legitimacy within communities and it's very important that the community themselves don't do anything to give legitimacy to these groups.

"There are ways of dealing with tensions and with difficulties within communities."

He said extra resources have been put in place in the area following Sunday's outbreak of trouble.

Last week a half-marathon attracted thousands to Larne, are the eyes of the world are set to be on the town in May as the Giro d'Italia passes through.

Retail chiefs said the negative publicity from ongoing paramilitary attacks was devastating for traders.

Glyn Roberts, chair of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said he was "disgusted" by the acts of "mindless thugs".

He added: "Local traders are working hard to improve the town and don't need these sort of bad headlines."

 

Further reading:

Turf wars of a group tearing itself apart 

UDA's thuggery is intolerable 

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