Belfast Telegraph

Threats for Northern Ireland houses scam exposed: Terror bosses on fake death threat given new homes

Paramilitaries feigning intimidation to jump housing queues

By Ciaran Barnes Chief Reporter

Terror bosses are issuing themselves with bogus threats to secure new social homes, a Sunday Life investigation has revealed.

And the government-funded Base 2 charity – charged with verifying intimidation – is facing calls to be scrapped from a leading MLA.

Paramilitaries have been jumping lengthy housing queues by issuing fake threats to themselves and taking payment to intimidate others – leaving genuine needy families and women fleeing abusive partners homeless.

The SDLP’s Nichola Mallon has called for Base 2 to be scrapped and said its project manager Jeff Maxwell had a conflict of interest as he holds roles on two groups linked to loyalist and dissident paramilitary groups.   

Ms Mallon said: “Under the current social housing allocation system points mean prizes and the quickest way of jumping to the top of the queue is by getting intimidation points. There are genuine cases and they need support, but everyone knows there is widespread abuse of the intimidation points system.”

A Sunday Life investigation into Base 2, and how paramilitaries are issuing themselves with bogus threats in a scam to get new homes, today exposes the dual positions of Jeff Maxwell.

The Base 2 senior project worker is tasked with helping people forced to flee their homes by terror gangs.

But the man they are turning to for guidance is a member of organisations directly connected to the loyalist and republican paramilitaries placing them under threat.

There is no suggestion that Mr Maxwell is involved in criminality, however there is a clear conflict of interest in his roles.

When challenged by Sunday Life yesterday he refused to comment. A series of detailed questions to his employers also went unanswered.

After being presented with the findings of Sunday Life’s housing racket probe, the SDLP is calling for the controversial Base 2 service to be closed down.

North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon (right) said: “The fact that a senior employee of Base 2, responsible according to the Housing Executive for supporting individuals and families under threat, also holds a senior role in groups linked to the criminal gangs issuing these threats is a clear conflict interest.

“This conflict of overlapping roles perversely gives these criminal gangs a sense of credibility and empowerment. It is the opposite of what the Housing Executive and we as a society should be trying to achieve. There is no justification for the continued existence and public funding of Base 2.”

Since January 2015 Mr Maxwell has been a director of Conflict Resolution Services Ireland (CRSI), a group that has strong links to dissident gang Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH). A registered charity, CRSI mediates on behalf of people ONH has placed under threat and verifies these warnings to Base 2.

CRSI’s offices on the Falls Road in Belfast have twice been raided by the PSNI as part of anti-terror probes. The first search in 2015 led to prominent republican Carl Reilly being charged with directing terrorism. The most recent raid in June resulted in the arrest of Sinead Adams, the niece of Sinn Fein’s former leader Gerry Adams, who was later released without charge.

Among the workers in CRSI’s Falls Road office is Sean O’Reilly, who was previously jailed for 30 months for his role in a botched ONH punishment-style shooting. He is understood to be Base 2’s point of contact when verifying ONH threats.

This newspaper can also reveal that Jeff Maxwell sits on the management committee of the UVF-linked Alternatives North Belfast group. According to the organisation’s own website, the committee also includes convicted gang rapist Gerry Spence and double killer Tom Winstone.

Alternatives is tasked with verifying UVF threats to the Housing Executive via Base 2 in order for those affected to get new homes.

Sunday Life’s probe into the Base 2 service, which has raked in £500,000 of government funding since 2013, came about after we learned of attempts by criminals to be awarded social housing tenancies for vacant homes on the besieged Ballysillan Avenue in north Belfast.

Drug dealers operating under the ‘LVF’ banner are known to have paid members of a UDA faction based in the nearby Westland estate to issue them with death threats so they move up the housing waiting list.

This blatant corruption is among the reasons why the Housing Executive’s intimidation points system is being reviewed, with increasing calls for it and Base 2 to be scrapped.

Current regulations dictate that anyone who is under a confirmed paramilitary threat is awarded an immediate 200 points, along with a further 90 points for homelessness and violence.

This takes them straight to the top of housing waiting lists, leapfrogging terrified women fleeing domestic violence, and large families without a roof over their heads.

But the intimidation points award scheme, which also involves successful applicants getting a £700 emergency grant, is being routinely abused and often by paramilitaries themselves.

Sunday Life is aware of numerous examples of republicans and loyalists arranging fake death threats, verified by Base 2, in order to get new homes.

This is a situation presently unfolding on Ballysillan Avenue in north Belfast, where five families recently fled their new-build social houses after being attacked by LVF elements.

The modern Connswater Housing-owned properties now lie vacant, with members of the ‘LVF’ gang intent on moving in.

The UDA death threats which they have paid for will have to be verified by Base 2 before the Housing Executive awards any intimidation points.

The Department of Communities proposal to abolish this system forms part of its review into the allocation of social housing.

The fact that someone under a bogus paramilitary death threat could have 290 points, a staggering 200 more than a genuine victim of domestic violence forced to flee their home, has increased calls for an immediate change in rules.

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph

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