Belfast Telegraph

Loyalist feuding a 'major concern' for police

BY LESLEY-ANNE McKEOWN

Splits among loyalist paramilitary groups are of major concern for police, Northern Ireland's most senior officer has insisted.

Matt Baggott said fragmentation of the UVF and UDA had created competing agendas, and connected gun attacks in east Belfast, Coleraine and Portrush to individual units seeking to exert their power.

The Chief Constable said: "At present we are concerned about developments within loyalist paramilitary groups.

"Our assessment is that they are fragmenting and we are seeing a number of competing agendas and increased lack of cohesion which is of concern."

In September, the UVF was blamed for the attempted murder of a 24-year-old care worker in east Belfast. Jemma McGrath was shot multiple times in the stomach and legs as she sat in a car outside her home at Lord Street Mews in east Belfast.

Mr Baggott told members of the Policing Board that intelligence had confirmed the shooting was not sanctioned by the leadership of the UVF, but was carried out by individuals connected to a breakaway unit.

"There are no indications that this was sanctioned by the overall UVF leadership. We believe it to be carried out by individuals linked to a single UVF unit acting on its own accord," he said.

Punishment-style attacks, including the shooting of a 15-year-old schoolboy in Coleraine, Co Londonderry, last month were also attributed to a single unit of the UDA.

The Chief Constable rejected claims that police were "going soft" on loyalist paramilitaries, whom he described as parasites.

"We will continue to relentlessly pursue people who break the law," said Mr Baggott. "There is absolutely no way we are going soft on these groups."

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