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5 November 1998 Edition

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Loyalists murder North Belfast nationalist

by Laura Friel

``Nationalist communities in Belfast fear a renewed loyalist sectarian murder campaign following the weekend murder of Brian Service, a Catholic community worker in North Belfast'', says Sinn Fein councillor Mick Conlon. The 35 year old nationalist was walking home along Alliance Avenue after spending an evening with his brother when loyalist killers shot him several times in the head and back. The fatally wounded man was rushed to the Mater Hospital where he died a short time later. A green Honda car, found close to the murder scene, was stolen from the Yorkgate centre in the afternoon before the shooting.

The killing occurred close to where a Catholic workman was shot dead by loyalists earlier this year. The murder of Brian Service brings the death toll to 15 nationalists killed by loyalists this year. Recent sectarian killings have been claimed by a group calling itself the Red Hand Defenders.

Loyalist killers operating under the name of the Red Hand Defenders are believed to be headed by a former close associate of Billy Wright. The man appeared at a Portadown rally organised by DUP MP Willie McCrea with Wright in September 1996. He was also prominent during the Drumcree standoff earlier this year. The Red Hand figure has a long history of involvement in loyalist violence since the early 70s, associating with both the UDA and the Red Hand Commandos.

 

 Nationalist escapes death



by Laura Friel
In the early hours of last Sunday November , a young nationalist in his early thirties ran in terror into Oldpark RUC barracks to report a loyalist murder bid. He was breathless, clearly in a state of panic, his clothes were muddy and there were grazes on his arm and legs. Less than 24 hours earlier in the same North Belfast district another nationalist, Brian Service, had been shot dead by a loyalist death squad. A second nationalist escaped a loyalist murder bid in the same area twenty minutes before Brian Service was killed. Inside the Oldpark barracks the RUC desk sergeant didn't want to know. The young man was simply told ``to go home''. This is his story.

On Saturday night, Sean and his brother had spent the evening at the Jamaica Inn, a nationalist bar in the Ardoyne area of North Belfast. It was not a bar normally frequented by the brothers but the club was showing a boxing match transmitted by satellite and the two decided to go. After the match, Sean lost sight of his brother and assumed he had already left without him. Outside the Inn there is a taxi depot. It was closed, but when Sean spotted a car with three men sitting inside the vehicle he assumed it was a waiting taxi. ``Where are you going?'' the driver asked. Sean said he was going to the New Lodge and the driver told him to ``get in.''

When the car didn't drive directly to the New Lodge, Sean wasn't immediately worried - he just assumed the driver was dropping off his other passengers first. At this point Sean's story becomes confused. He has agreed to be interviewed by An Phoblacht as long as his location and identity are protected. When we arrive for the interview, Sean is seated in a far corner of the room. His handshake is cold and sweaty, he speaks hesitantly and his voice is shaky. This is clearly a man not simply living in fear but still traumatised by an ordeal which is not yet over.

Sean was driven to a house in a district which he did not recognise. Once inside the house he overheard one of the men talking to a woman in another room. The woman said, ``you can't stiff the bastard here.'' The man replied, ``I'll stiff the bastard out the back.'' The woman continued, ``you know it's in the shed.'' Sean pretended to be more drunk than he was and asked to go to the toilet. The man told him he'd ``better go outside the back.'' What followed was a terrifying scramble, as Sean struggled from his captors, clambering over walls and fences, running back and forth in what appeared to the terrified man as a maze of alleyways. ``Get that fenian bastard,'' Sean heard one of the loyalists shout as they pursued him on foot. At the time Sean thought he heard a gunshot, but on reflection he's no longer sure.

As Sean recounts his tale, he becomes increasingly distressed. At one point he breaks with the narrative, ``I'm a dead man,'' he says, ``I thought I was a dead man.''

When Sean ran into a dead-end, believing he was about to die, he stood and prayed.

Eventually he made his way out of the estate and to the nearby Old Park RUC barracks. As Sean breathlessly tried to recount his ordeal, the RUC laughed it off, telling Sean to ``go home''. Still fearing for his life, Sean left the RUC barracks and ran on to a relative's house in the district.

``It was before 7am. Sean arrived in a terrible state,`` says his relative, ``he hasn't slept or eaten since.'' Sean contacted his solicitor and was later interviewed by RUC detectives at Antrim Road Barracks investigating the murder of Brian Service.

Questions around the conduct of the RUC at the Oldpark barracks remain unanswered. Two days after the incident the RUC press office confirmed that ``a man did attend the Oldpark RUC station in the early hours of Sunday morning. He was interviewed but no complaint was made.``

Outside the Jamaica Inn, the spot where the loyalist gang parked their car is overlooked by Oldpark barracks. A surveillance tower with a number of video cameras is perched high above the Inn. After interviewing Sean, An Phoblacht drove around the nearby loyalist estate where Sean believes he was abducted. There was no RUC presence, let alone RUC activity. Small wonder loyalist death squads believe they can stalk the streets of Belfast with impunity. Collusion is not always active, sometimes it only involves turning a blind eye.

 

Sectarian knife attack



By Laura Friel

A second loyalist attack in the early hours of Sunday morning left a nationalist man from the Unity Flats area of North Belfast requiring 28 stitches to his face. The 31-year-old man was walking with a friend along Tyrone Street at about 6am when a stranger approached After walking alongside them for a few moments, the stranger drew a knife from his coat and slashed one of the men.

The assailant - in his late twenties, of stocky build with bright blue eyes and wearing a pale green fleece jacket with a red collar - ran off in the direction of the Peter's Hill area of the Shankill Road.

In an earlier incident in the Shankill area a loyalist gang in the Brown Street area attacked a cyclist who had cycled off the Falls Road into the Millfield area of Belfast. The cyclist sped away and the gang was unable to apprehend him.

 

Lucky to be alive



By Laura Friel

A North Belfast man who was stalked by loyalist killers at the same location just twenty minutes before Brian Service was shot dead has described himself as lucky to be alive. The 30 year old single man was walking along Alliance Avenue just before midnight on Friday 30 October . At the junction of Deerpark Road he became aware of two men walking towards him, one on either side of the road.

The Ardoyne man turned left at the upper part of the Deerpark Road when he noticed the smaller of the two men, dressed in black, was standing behind him. ``I thought I was going to get mugged,'' he says. The man crossed the road to see if the man dressed in black was following him. ``He stayed right behind me, then suddenly the other man appeared in front of me from behind a parked car.''

The second man was taller, skinny and dressed in a white top with blue jeans. ``It was then that I saw that they both had their faces covered,'' he says. Both men wore hats pulled down low over their brows and scarves across the bridge of their noses. The Ardoyne man, who was on his way to work, had walked up Alliance Avenue to meet a work colleague. At that moment his friend drove up in a car and the two masked men walked away into the loyalist Deerpark area.

``I went on to work and thought nothing more about it,'' the man says. When he returned home from work the area was cordoned off. ``The RUC told me someone had been shot dead,'' he says, ``I told them I had been stalked by two masked loyalists just twenty minutes before the shooting at the same place.'' RUC detectives investigating the murder of Brian Service took the full details of the incident. One CID officer told the Ardoyne man, ``you're lucky to be alive.''

The statement describing the two masked loyalist gunmen was given to the RUC shortly after 5am, within five hours of the murder of Brian Service, yet a RUC spokesperson later described the motive as ``unclear''.

In a third sectarian attack by loyalists on Friday night, customers at the Farmers Inn, a Catholic owned bar on the outskirts of West Belfast, scrambled to safety when loyalist gunmen fired two shots from a semi automatic shot gun at the pub's front windows. Fearing a rerun of the Greysteel attack, in which loyalist gunmen shouted ``trick or treat'' before raking the Rising Sun bar with gunfire, the 30 customers clambered over each other in panic. A barman at the Inn said at first people thought it was Halloween fire crackers until glasses and bottles began to smash. The management of the Inn, situated along an isolated country road, had been considering removing some of the security precautions installed at the pub but he had decided to ``Err on the side of caution''. The attack was later claimed by a loyalist grouping calling itself the Red Hand Defenders, the same gang which claimed the murder of Brian Service in North Belfast who was shot dead just hours after the gun attack at the Farmers' Inn.
 

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