Belfast Telegraph

Amnesty chief's plea over paramilitary 'punishment' attacks: 'We cannot turn our backs on savagery'

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

Society cannot turn its back on the victims of brutal so-called punishment attacks, the head of a leading human rights organisation has said.

The latest victim of ruthless vigilantes was a 15-year-old boy who was shot in the bedroom of a Co Londonderry home in the early hours of yesterday.

The teenager was shot in both legs and then battered around the head by a gang of masked men as he screamed for help.

The horrific incident happened in Coleraine at around 5am yesterday.

Commenting on the savage attack, Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of human rights body Amnesty, said those involved in such crimes were guilty of child abuse. And he said vigilante attacks – currently taking place on a weekly basis here – must cease immediately.

"So-called punishment beatings and shootings are a brutal abuse of human rights, for which there is no excuse," he said.

"To inflict such brutality on a 15-year-old is nothing less than child abuse.

"These attacks must stop immediately and those responsible must be brought to justice. Society cannot turn its back on these people."

In the past 12 months, 25 paramilitary-style shootings have been reported to police – roughly one every fortnight – with assaults involving baseball bats and hammers happening weekly.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said it was too early to identify any suspects for the attack on the youth in Coleraine.

"Anybody who thinks shooting a 15-year-old progresses any legitimate aim, it is just absolute madness, it really is, the shooting of children," he said.

He said the issue of ongoing vigilante-style paramilitary shootings was of significant concern to the PSNI and the Policing Board.

Mr Kerr said since last June, 69 people have been arrested for so-called punishment or paramilitary-type attacks – 18 of whom have been charged and six convicted to date.

East Londonderry Assembly Member John Dallat said the attack on the 15-year-old was "brutal and ruthless".

It followed a similar incident in nearby Portrush last week during which a 21-year-old man was shot in both legs.

"I would urge the community to co-operate with the police and provide information which will help bring about an arrest," said the SDLP representative.

"No one knows whose child could be the next victim of such a gang."

DUP MP Gregory Campbell, who also represents East Londonderry, said those behind yesterday's attack see themselves as an alternative police force.

"If there are allegations of anti-social behaviour, then they should be reported to the proper authorities. No one has the right to take the law into their own hands," he said.

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, said there could be no justification for any attacks.

"Such attacks merely make matters worse, and can destroy young people's lives," she said.

"I unreservedly condemn so- called 'punishment attacks' of any kind against young people. There can be no place for such actions in our society."

Police figures show that from October 1, 2012, until September 30 of this year 41 people were injured in paramilitary-style assaults. In that time, an additional 25 people were shot.

Around 47% of attacks during that time were carried out on people under the age of 24.

In April of last year, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott announced a new initiative to tackle punishment attacks.

It included setting up a dedicated telephone hotline and a review of old cases.

He described such attacks as "a gross abuse of human rights".

The vast majority of paramilitary-style shootings carried out in recent years have been attributed to republican groups whereas before that, between 2002 and 2006, the majority were linked to loyalist groups.

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