Belfast Telegraph

Demand for crackdown on loyalist thugs in Larne after hatchet gang attacks man

By Allan Preston

A Larne resident has said he is too scared to live in his home town after witnessing a masked gang attack a man using hatchets and a machete in broad daylight.

Following the assault a Sinn Fein politician revealed he had to help three families intimidated by loyalists to move away from the port town this year alone.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the 27-year-old witness, who wished to remain anonymous, said the shocking assault on a man in his 20s happened on Sunday at around 7pm outside his Latharna House home.

He further claimed that two police officers were sitting in a vehicle around 50 yards away and waited five minutes until the gang left before intervening.

The PSNI has denied this, saying the injured man had already left the scene by the time the incident was reported.

The details released by the police also differ from the resident's account.

Inspector Rory Bradley said: "The report was received at around 7.50pm on Sunday evening that a man had been assaulted inside a parked car by two males some time before the time of the report.

"Police attended a short time later, but the injured party had left the area.

"He has since been spoken to by officers and enquiries are ongoing."

Recalling the incident, the witness said: "It was three men with balaclavas beating on a boy, one with machetes and two with hatchets.

"It was in broad daylight, they were trying to cut him up.

"I live in that building and there's stuff like this happening all the time.

"I was panicking and ran in the opposite direction. I didn't want to get struck with a hatchet.

"This was in front of everybody, I can't believe it.

"I'm going to have to move away, there's no one here to help us and we're left to walk around to be struck by hatchets."

Former Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan said it was his understanding that the victim will not make a complaint because of the "sheer and abject fear" of loyalist paramilitaries.

The brutality of an attack using hatchets and a machete was "nothing new for Larne", he added.

"Loyalist paramilitaries are dealing out their so-called community justice and 99% of the people will not come forward because they're absolutely petrified," he said.

"Their houses are targeted and cars burnt, with the chance family members could be attacked, which has happened in the past.

"For example, there was another man attacked recently in Larne with nail bars, a police investigation is ongoing for that," he said. On Tuesday Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill raised her concerns over loyalist violence with Chief Constable George Hamilton.

Speaking after the meeting, she said loyalist paramilitaries were holding communities to ransom "particularly in the communities of Larne, where people up there are being terrorised day and daily".

Mr McMullan said he would be meeting the local PSNI commander in the town to discuss the matter.

"I think we need a dedicated force in Larne to deal with the loyalist paramilitaries and the stranglehold they have," he added.

"This festering has been going on for years as these people are living off the profits of drugs, extortion and money lending, you name it.

"It would also help to have the assets recovery people sent in to look at some of their lifestyles. Where are they getting their money from?

"I've been able to relocate three families out of Larne because of attacks this year.

"I must give credit to the PSNI and Housing Executive, as they've moved pretty quickly on it.

"Their family members were attacked and the police verified it was a hate crime and they would be in danger if they stayed in Larne."

He said he was especially concerned about the trauma the attacks had on young children. "They're about to do exams and they're forced to move schools while they're worrying about a family member getting hurt."

Witnesses or those with any information on the assault outside Latharna Houses are asked to call police in Larne on 101, quoting reference number 1150.

Information can also be given anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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