Belfast Telegraph

Two 'punishment-style' attacks carried out every week in Northern Ireland

By Chris Kilpatrick

Two paramilitary-style shootings or beatings are taking place on the streets of Northern Ireland every week, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

With the number of assaults on the rise, police have reopened investigations into hundreds of so-called punishment attacks across the region in the past five years.

Figures show that from April until September this year there were 41 shootings or beatings - 20 years after the loyalist and republican ceasefires.

In the past year there has been an average of two shootings every month.

In the latest attack a man was shot in both legs in Londonderry last night, the second such attack in two days.

The 26-year-old was wounded in both legs in the Shantallow area.

A 42-year-old man was said to have been shot in the leg "by appointment" in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry the previous night.

PSNI chief George Hamilton has revealed the PSNI is currently re-examining incidents since 2009 in the hope of unearthing fresh evidence.

"A key element to tackling paramilitary-style attacks is our continuing work to secure and build trust and support for the police within our most vulnerable communities," he said. "Serious Crime Branch has provided and continues to provide specialist investigative support to paramilitary attack investigations led by District CID, ensuring that they are carried out to the highest possible standards."

He told members of the Policing Board: "The PSNI are in the process of conducting a review of all punishment style attacks since 2009 to ensure that all investigative and forensic opportunities have been exploited. To date 256 reviews have been completed. This includes the revisit of victims, where appropriate, as part of this proactive strategy.

"This is a protracted piece of work, however the PSNI will continue to actively pursue and progress all opportunities to detect those responsible for such attacks."

Over the past year there have been 76 punishment attacks, beatings or shootings, across Northern Ireland. Figures obtained from the PSNI show that between October 2013 and September there was an increase from 44 to 49 victims of punishment assaults compared to the previous year.

During the same time there were 27 paramilitary-style shootings - one more than the year before.

Human rights group Amnesty International said there was no place in society for vigilante activity and called for an independent body to set up to deal with the violence.

Grainne Teggart, from Amnesty, told the Belfast Telegraph: "Paramilitary-style attacks are a throwback to Northern Ireland's violent past and symptomatic of a wider failure to effectively deal with the past.

"With inter-party talks already under way and the arrival of US envoy Gary Hart to NI to consider issues including the legacy of the past, Amnesty International is calling on our political leaders to agree a new, comprehensive process to review the conflict and to establish the truth about outstanding human rights violations committed by all parties, including paramilitary attacks.

"Amnesty is recommending the establishment of a single, overarching mechanism to independently investigate all outstanding cases of human rights abuses, including cases of torture and ill-treatment.

"The mechanism should examine patterns of abuses - including the policies and practices of paramilitaries, with the potential to lead to criminal prosecutions."

Sinn Fein councillor Eric McGinley said the ongoing attacks in Derry were extremely worrying.

Police said they received a report a man had been shot in the left leg at Corrib Court by a man described as being approximately 6ft tall, who was wearing a balaclava and dark clothing.

The victim was taken to hospital for treatment to his injury, which is not believed to be life-threatening.

Mr McGinley added: "It's important to repeat the message that there is no place for guns on the streets of our city."

In April 2012, then PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott announced a new initiative to tackle punishment attacks.

The majority of paramilitary-style shootings carried out in recent years have been attributed to republicans, whereas previously most were linked to loyalists.

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