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20 November 2003 Edition

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Attack victim speaks out

Paul Denvir is a slightly built man, inoffensive in manner and quietly spoken. Despite the horrendous nature of his injuries, the loss of one eye, broken jaw and cheekbones, smashed teeth, lacerated chin and serious head injuries, Paul describes himself as a lucky man. "They intended to kill me," says Paul. "I'm lucky to be alive."

Lying in his hospital bed, clearly still experiencing considerable pain from his injuries, Paul patiently answers questions about his ordeal. "It's important to let other people know that there are still those out there prepared to do this, just because I'm a Catholic," says Paul.

"I tried to get a taxi home but I was told there would be a wait of about 20 minutes. It wasn't far and I thought I would just dander home," says Paul.

Paul did not see his attackers. Hit across the side of his face and back of the head by a gang of four or five men armed with machetes and hammers, Paul fell to the ground with the first blows. The nature of his injuries suggests that the gang had intended to kill their victim.

"All the injuries are to my head and face. The doctor commented on the fact that there was no bruising to the rest of my body. They intended to kill me. As I lay on the ground, just before I began slipping in and out of consciousness, I heard one of them say 'kill him, kill him'.

"I was in surgery for over five hours. The surgeons couldn't save my left eye and they were also worried about the effect of my injuries on my other eye. I need extensive recontructive dental surgery. The doctor said virtually every bone in my face has been broken. I've been warned that it will take a long time for me to recover and that I will require further surgery.

"The PSNI have been very reluctant to admit the attack was sectarian. They asked me several times if there was anyone who might want to do this to me but I was just a convenient Catholic.

"A group calling itself the Loyalist Action Force have claimed responsibility for the attack. That's the same group that issued a threat against Father Whyte. In their statement they claimed they carried out the attack in retaliation for an attack on a Protestant bar but I asked the PSNI if there had been such an attack and they said no, they had heard nothing.

"My family have been told that the car the gang were travelling in, silver, perhaps a Cavalier, had been seen in the area 20 minutes before the attack by a number of people. One person said he had thought the men in the car looked 'dodgy'. I fear that this gang will be back. People need to take care.

"Sammy Duddy of the UPRG said that the attack was not sanctioned by the UVF or UDA but significantly he did not say they were not involved. It's tantamount to saying loyalists paramilitaries were behind the attack.

"It was something reminiscent of the Shankill Butchers, they were armed with machetes and hammers. It is a curious coincidence but on Sunday night RTÉ screened a programme about the Shankill Butchers. It finished just 20 minutes before the attack.

"My wife and family have been devastated by what happened to me. It was particularly traumatic for my wife. She lost a brother 17 years ago in similar circumstances. John was only 25 when loyalists beat him to death. He had gone for a drink with some Protestants he worked with. They'd assured him he would be safe but he was taken from the club and beaten to death. His skull was smashed with a blunt object.

"I agreed to speak to media because I think it's important for people to realise how dangerous it still is for many Catholics. I was lucky. I survived. I want other people to learn from my experience and take extra care."

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