Loyalist thugs appear to be untouchable, claims Bangor hammer attack victim
A community worker attacked by loyalists says the failure to secure any convictions over the assault has left him demoralised.
Aaron McMahon, a volunteer from Bangor, was beaten up in November 2015 after speaking out for months on behalf of residents and young people who were experiencing intimidation and violence at the hands of paramilitaries.
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"These 'loyalists/paramilitaries' were trying to take over the community-run bonfire and erected paramilitary flags in the area for the first time ever with the aim to intimidate and frighten residents," Mr McMahon said.
"I didn't take a stand against this group, I was left standing along with local young people and residents who were simply asking the PSNI, council and elected representatives to do their jobs and protect them from intimidation and violence. But nothing was done to protect this community and these people appeared to be untouchable."
The situation reached a climax when two masked men armed with hammers stormed into his home, attacking him in front of his wife and seven-year-old twins and leaving the family traumatised.
Mr McMahon has questioned why no one has been brought to justice despite forensic evidence, witnesses and some of the suspects being brought before the courts.
He was told by the Public Prosecution Service that the case collapsed due to "a lack of evidence".
"I believed, then and now, that the PSNI's hands were tied on this and they couldn't or wouldn't continue the investigation as it was too politically sensitive," Mr McMahon claimed.
Responding, PSNI Chief Inspector Hazel Reid said it was the decision of the PPS to decide whether or not to prosecute.
"Following the awful attack, a full investigation was carried out by detectives in Bangor. All the evidence was presented to the PPS, who subsequently discontinued the case," she said.
"It is our understanding that the assistant director of the PPS met with Mr McMahon to explain the decision. The PSNI investigate crime, they send a file to the PPS. The PPS ultimately decides whether or not to prosecute."
Mr McMahon believes the PSNI needs to crack down on loyalists, adding that people who live in loyalist areas live under a constant low-level threat from paramilitaries.
He said that there were not enough police to stop such attacks and intimidation in communities.
"The lack of PSNI resources and ongoing cuts are as a result of political decisions, and yet, in general, it is not the communities that politicians live in that are plagued by drug dealers and criminals calling themselves loyalists, who have people living in fear," he said. "There appears to be no political will to stop these attacks at their source, and politicians turn a blind eye because it's not on their doorsteps.
"They (police and politicians), I believe, are leaving working class communities to fend for themselves."
Another North Down community worker and resident, Louise Little, said that the troubled past of Northern Ireland was a complex one.
"It is important to make the distinction between loyalists and paramilitaries from the Belfast Agreement era who wanted the conflict and violence to end and never be repeated, and with the current criminal gangs who use the term 'loyalists' and 'paramilitaries' to define themselves while destroying the lives, future and pride of many of the people in these working class communities with drugs, criminality, violence and an increasing sense of hopelessness," she said.
"Many residents are living with a sustained sense of menace, threat and coercion, which leaves people severely traumatised and hopeless.
"Society recognises that it isn't acceptable for people to live in their homes with this sort of threat and violence, yet it's happening in communities every day, and what is being done to genuinely address it?"
Chief Inspector Reid said the PSNI "continues in its determination to keep people safe".
"We continue to work in collaboration with our partners in statutory and voluntary organisations and with local communities," she said.
"In order that we do this effectively, resourcing is kept under constant review and adjusted as appropriate. Police in Bangor regularly meet with interested parties and members of residents' associations in the area to discuss any issues or concerns. Police have, and will continue to act, on any information we receive."