Belfast Telegraph

Top loyalists were targeted in 'off-the-cuff' murder bid, court told as accused are denied bail

By Alan Erwin

Two high-profile loyalists allegedly came under close-range gun attack in a "casual and off-the-cuff" attempt to kill them, a court has heard.

A gunman got down on one knee to open fire on John 'Bonzer' Boreland and Andre Shoukri from as little as six feet away in north Belfast, it was claimed.

Prosecutors also said the pair have received threats since the suspected shooting being linked to a feud between rival loyalist factions.

Details emerged as the man accused of ordering the shooting was refused bail for a second time.

John Bunting (47) is one of three men charged with attempting to murder the pair on August 20.

Bunting, of Stonebridge Avenue in Conlig, Co Down, was arrested along with John Howcroft (46) of Formby Park, and Darren McAllister (31) of Alliance Road, both in Belfast.

All three are also charged with possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.

Belfast Magistrates Court heard Boreland and Shoukri allegedly came under gun attack as they drove through Carr's Glen Park in the Ballysillan area.

They claim shots were fired after they got of their car to confront of a group of men who had thrown an object at the vehicle.

Prosecutor John O'Neill said Bunting is alleged to have given the order "get the pieces" before his two co-accused produced handguns.

According to Shoukri's account to police Bunting then instructed: "Right, do them."

At that point Howcroft allegedly got down on one knee and fired two shoots at the pair before they started to flee, the court was told.

Mr O'Neill continued: "Mr Shoukri said this happened from a close distance of about six to eight feet.

"He actually thought after the shots were fired, as he wasn't hit and it was so close, that it must have been blanks.

"He stopped to go back to the group, but at that point he was advised by Mr Boreland that he had been shot in the leg."

Although Boreland was later treated in hospital the bullet was not removed. Medical staff decided it would cause more damage to remove it.

Bunting denies involvement in any shooting incident, claiming the allegations have been made up.

Opposing bail, Mr O'Neill argued that it would lead to risks of interference with the course of justice and of further offences. "There's a backdrop to this, whether we call it a feud or bad blood, there are previous incidents between the parties," he said.

"His (Bunting's) role in the alleged offending is one which involved directing others to carry out the attack in question."

The prosecutor continued: "The way this shooting takes place, it's a casual attempt to murder. There's something very off-the-cuff about it which makes it particularly sinister."

Bail was sought because of a change in circumstances after police questioned and released three other men in connection with the investigation.

Defence lawyer Paul Farrell pointed to a Press report that Shoukri and Boreland are considering withdrawing their complaints. A detective sergeant stressed to the court, however, that this was not the case. He also disclosed that police have still to speak to another two potential witnesses.

During cross-examination the officer confirmed that no blood, bullet casings or forensics were located at the scene of the alleged shooting.

Claiming a "paucity" of evidence in the case, Mr Farrell argued that both Shoukri and Boreland's criminal histories meant they could not be trusted.

He put it to the detective: "Are these individuals manipulating police in order to put Mr Bunting in the situation he's in?"

The officer responded that it was a matter for them to answer.

Refusing the renewed bail application, District Judge Amanda Henderson said: "I share the concerns that there is, while this investigation continues, still a risk of interference with the course of justice and reoffending."

Bunting was remanded back into custody to appear again by video-link on September 18.

As he was led from the dock he waved to family and friends in the public gallery.

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