25 May 2000 Edition
Boy survives second loyalist attack
Declan Lagan is 13 years old. He lives in Ardoyne in North Belfast. Like any other boy of his age, he is starting to grow up and ``hang out with the lads''. Declan, however, is lucky to be alive, as loyalists could have killed him twice in the past year.
In May 1999, as he stood at the corner of Brompton Park and the Crumlin Road, within a couple of hundred yards of his home, a loyalist gun gang pulled up in a car beside him and his friend.
One of the gunmen stepped out of the car and fired at the children, up to 12 rounds in all. Both boys were lucky. None of the bullets struck their intended targets.
Last Tuesday evening, 15 May, Declan was again on the Crumlin Road, just a hundred yards from home, when a car carrying five loyalists pulled up alongside him and his four friends.
All five scattered but Declan, unfortunately, was caught when he tried to backtrack and run behind the car. One of the loyalists grabbed him, pulled him to the ground and started kicking and beating him. Two loyalists who had initially given chase to Declan's mates, including his 16-year-old brother Gerard, came back and joined in the assault. A similar attack left Portadown nationalist Robert Hamill dead in 1997.
According to Declan's friend Stephen, ``they jumped on him.
``They kept aiming their boots into his head and bouncing him off the railings. They were shouting, `fenian bastard' as they hit him.'' Stephen is convinced that at one point the loyalists tried to pick Declan up and get him into their car.
Stephen and Gerard tried to help Declan by throwing stones at the car. All the gang were men in their twenties so the odds were against the teenagers, but they did succeed in distracting the loyalists from Declan for a while.
As cars driving along the Crumlin Road slowed down to see what was happening, the loyalists abandoned their attack. Declan suffered lacerations to his head and leg and was badly shocked.
Declan's mother Kate knows her child could have been killed on two separate occasions in the space of a year. ``He was physically sick with fear when I got him back to the house,'' she said. ``I just want to publicise this. I just want people to know that they still need to be careful.''
She pointed out that loyalists are carrying out a lot of attacks in the area: ``They are doing it to heighten tension; it's men that are involved, it isn't kids.''
Sinn Féin councillor for the area, Mick Conlon said there had been a number of incidents in and around Ardoyne in the past weeks and that the party believes the UDA is involved. ``There is some evidence to point the finger of suspicion at the UDA in this attack as well,'' he said.
Taxi driver feared for his life
A taxi driver is the latest Catholic to be targeted by loyalists in North Belfast. The driver suffered a fractured elbow in the attack last Saturday morning, 20 May at 1am,.
The man, who does not want to be identified, had just dropped a regular customer in the predominantly loyalist White City area on the outskirts of North Belfast when a man who appeared to be drunk called to him.
The man shouted to the driver for a cigarette, probably to distract him. Then the man ran towards the taxi as three other men appeared from the side of a house.
As they tried to surround the taxi, the driver accelerated away but one of the men threw a breeze block through the passenger door of the cab injuring him. Two bottles were also thrown.
John Donnelly of Orchard taxis, which is a Catholic firm, believes the driver is lucky to be alive.
``Had the loyalists got to the man and attacked him with the breeze block there is little doubt that he would have been killed or at least badly injured'', said Sinn Féin councillor Danny Lavery.