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South East Antrim UDA chiefs deny issuing death threats to journalists and politicians

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A UDA mural in the Glenfada area of Carrickfergus. Pic Pacemaker

A UDA mural in the Glenfada area of Carrickfergus. Pic Pacemaker

A UDA mural in the Glenfada area of Carrickfergus. Pic Pacemaker

A UDA faction has denied issuing threats to journalists and politicians in Northern Ireland, two clergymen have said.

Former Church of Ireland primate Alan Harper and Methodist minister Gary Mason asked “a trusted intermediary” to meet with the leadership of the South East Antrim UDA.

It came after Sunday Life and Sunday World journalists were threatened for covering stories on the terror grouping.

Politicians who spoke out against the threats also received warnings.

In a statement to the BBC, the two clergymen said they had been told the South East Antrim faction was not responsible.

Several meetings took place in the past week, involving the intermediary, the BBC reported.

In a statement, the clergymen said: “The outcome of those meetings, relayed to the two clergy persons, is that there are no threats to any politicians or journalists from this grouping and that the threat did not emanate from them in the first place.”

However, last night sources said they believe the threats emanate from “elements within” the South East Antrim UDA.

There has been widespread condemnation of the threats.

Earlier this week the publishers of the Belfast Telegraph, The Irish News and News Letter, and the National Union of Journalists, joined together in opposition to threats.

The “Stand Up for Journalism” campaign asserts the right of journalists to work without threats, intimidation or harassment.

Signatories include the First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minster Michelle O’Neill and the majority of MLAs.

The South East Antrim UDA claims to control an area stretching 20 miles from Larne to north Belfast, along with pockets of Newtownards. It is considered one of Northern Ireland’s most dangerous organised crime gangs.

The Sunday Life and Sunday World journalists were targeted because of exposés in both titles about UDA involvement in criminality, drug dealing and involvement in the January murder of terminally ill Glen Quinn in Carrickfergus.

Police visited journalists’ homes, with one being warned of a potential under-car booby-trap attack.

Peter Vandermeersch, publisher at Independent News and Media which owns the titles, has led condemnation of the threats.

He said “threats against journalists should not be tolerated in any free society”.

“It is depressing that thugs still believe they can silence the press through intimidation. We will continue to publish stories that shed light in dark corners,” he added.

Politicians who had condemned the threats to journalists were then warned they were at risk.

Police contacted UUP leader Steve Aiken, his party colleague the Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie, Sinn Fein’s Linda Dillon, the SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, DUP MLA David Hilditch and Alliance MP Stephen Farry warning of a “credible threat” from loyalists.

Amnesty international described the threats as an “attack on democracy”.

Police do not discuss the nature or severity of any threats they become aware of.

Belfast Telegraph