16 May 2002 Edition
In the aftermath of Saturday night's loyalist bomb attacks on nationalist homes in the Short Strand area of East Belfast and the brutal PSNI attack in which a local man was seriously injured, the PSNI and British Army launched yet another offensive on Tuesday.
Flooding the small nationalist enclave with heavily armed members of the PSNI and British military personnel at around 4.30pm on Tuesday afternoon, the PSNI began raiding a number of homes, including one of those targeted by loyalist blast bombers on Saturday night.
The raids followed Monday's release of amateur video footage by local residents of the loyalist bomb attack and the subsequent PSNI operation during which a senior member of Belfast Sinn Féin, Paud Devenny, (pictured) was brutally beaten and seriously injured. Video footage of the incident is to be forwarded to the Police Ombudsman as part of a formal complaint by the injured man's family.
Local residents suspect that the raids, carried out on the pretext of a search for arms and explosives, were really a desperate attempt by a force fearing further discredit to find film footage of Saturday night's incident.
On Tuesday afternoon, as Crown forces occupied and attempted to impose a virtual curfew on the Short Strand area, local people attempted to hold a peaceful protest. The PSNI and British Army responded with baton charges and plastic bullets.
A photographer from the Irish News was hit with a plastic bullet and described the attack. "I was standing well back when the British Army loaded up the plastic bullets and started firing straight into the crowd," said Bill Smyth. "I could actually see the soldier aiming and shooting the plastic bullet. I was in shock and felt a shooting pain in my leg."
Among ten people who were rushed to hospital with plastic bullet injuries were 19-year-old Paula McCrory, who suffered a leg injury, and 16-year-old Anthony Farrelly. The schoolboy was returning home when he was hit in the chest with a plastic bullet and began to cough blood.
Similar to the injury that proved to be fatal for Sean Downes in 1984, Anthony was told by medics at the hospital that if the impact had been fractionally lower he would have died.
Father of two, Peter Montgomery received two fractures above his right elbow and a plastic bullet also broke the arm of 27-year-old Teresa Quinn.
Earlier in the day, loyalists, their faces covered with Rangers' scarves, had blockaded the local chemist's, doctor's surgery and post office, denying access and hurling sectarian abuse at nationalist women and children. In a scenario remarkably similar to Saturday night, what loyalists began the PSNI continued.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey described the "deep anger in this community that the response of the PSNI to the orchestrated UVF attack this weekend was to raid the homes of nationalists.
"This community is under siege," said Maskey. "This community has been under attack since Saturday. The UVF or the PSNI are going to kill members of this community if they continue," he warned.
"Sinn Féin's Belfast chairperson, Paud Devenny, a respected member of this community, is in a critical condition in hospital after he was attacked by the PSNI. Houses have been bombed by loyalists, and then raided by the PSNI. Homes have been wrecked and several young people have been victims of plastic bullets."
Sinn Féin has raised the incident with both the British and Irish governments and has reiterated their call for plastic bullets to be banned, said Maskey
Addressing the conference, local Sinn Féin councillor Joe O'Donnell asked why the PSNI had failed to raid houses in the loyalist estate, "from where these bombings emanated".
"I think something has to be pointed out very clearly here. What happened here on Saturday night wasn't a clash between two communities, it wasn't an inter-community conflict, this area was quiet. This was a premeditated attack by loyalist paramilitaries. Don't get caught up in this tit for tat nonsense. It's a lie," said Joe.
Meanwhile the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets say they are outraged by the indiscriminate use of plastic bullets in the Short Strand.
"In the deployment of the British Army to the streets, the PSNI operate under the policy of police primacy," they pointed out. "It is their decision to deploy the British Army and the British Army operates under the direction of the Chief Constable. However the Ombudsman has no role in investigating the use of plastic bullets or injuries sustained as they were fired by the British Army." In other words plastic bullets are being fired," they said, "with no method of accountability or redress."
Short Strand under siege
BY LAURA FRIEL
A man is lying in a hospital bed. Part of the patient's head is shaved and stitched and still swollen. His name is Sean Devenny, but he is more widely known as 'Paud'. Two days ago he was a fit and healthy husband and father as well as a valued and valuable member of his local community.
And more than that, Sean was a member of Sinn Féin's Belfast executive. Now his future is as uncertain as his speech and his memory of the last 48 hours.
The doctors have told his wife, Joanne, that a prognosis is impossible at the moment. The long-term impact of a serious head trauma is difficult to assess in the immediate aftermath of the injury, they have warned. Sean has told his wife that he feels as if he has suffered a stroke.
He describes numbness down one side of his face. He has lost the full use of one arm; speech is difficult and slurred, his balance too uncertain to stand. At times he has appeared disorientated and he may have experienced hallucinations.
When his neighbours discovered him, Sean was unconscious and lying in blood. They wrapped his head in a towel in a desperate attempt to stem the flow while waiting for the ambulance. By the time Sean arrived at the hospital, his face and head were already grotesquely swollen with internal bleeding.
During an emergency operation, surgeons at a Belfast hospital drained Sean's brain cavity of excess fluid before removing fragments of his smashed skull from his brain. In intensive care, Sean was placed on a life support unit while his family anxiously waited to learn if he would regain consciousness.
Sean and his family do not know the name of the person who smashed open his skull and left him unconscious and bleeding to death. They do not know the name of the people who attacked the already stricken man as he lay on the ground. But they do know that they were all members of an RUC/PSNI riot squad. And furthermore, events immediately prior to the attack waere captured on amateur video film.
The quality of the filming isn't perfect; the panic of the person filming is recorded in her voice and the trembling of her hand. The recording begins shortly after 11.30pm on Saturday 11 May. Just moments before, the Short Strand district had been quiet.
The Short Strand is a small nationalist enclave in predominantly loyalist East Belfast. Last year, the area was targeted for repeated sectarian attacks by loyalists but these had subsided after persistent and imaginative work by the local community and their representatives. "We all worked so hard to calm things down and keep it calm," says Sinn Féin's Joe O Donnell.
On Saturday night the local community had been alerted to possible trouble when around 11pm loyalists entered the nationalist Madrid Street area of the Short Stand and threatened a local woman and her family. The woman and her children had only recently moved into the Short Strand after being intimidated out of North Belfast by loyalists. The loyalists shouted, "we'll get you" and "we'll be back."
The home of a Short Strand pensioner whose home was attacked by the UVF bombers at the weekend.
Loyalists were spotted entering the street around 40 minutes afterwards, and moments later two loyalists were filmed running around the corner and throwing two blast bombs at the woman's house.
"What's that in his hand?" enquires the voice of a young girl on the video recording. Another voice says it is something shining. Someone suggests it is a petrol bomb. The loyalists throw the devices and there is a pause before two loud explosions. The video shows the flare of the explosion and sparks flying over a wide area. In the room where the video is being recoded, there is panic.
Someone is crying "mummy, mummy, mummy" and there is the sound of sobbing. A mother cries out as she tries to locate a missing child: "get my child quick" she shouts. The voice of a young woman screams and then cries, 'I'm going to be sick'.
In the street outside the video records residents streaming out of their homes and giving chase to the loyalist bombers who run back into their own area. The scene is reminiscent of that of Michael Stone's grenade and gun attack in Milltown cemetery, when unarmed mourners gave chase to their attacker and in doing so saved many lives.
And then the PSNI and their armoured Land Rovers arrive. Call it naïve but aren't the upholders of law and order supposed to protect the victim and pursue the perpetrators of crime? Despite the so-called new beginning to policing, the behaviour of the PSNI captured on video mirrors that of the discredited and sectarian RUC.
Despite the fact that they are dealing with a loyalist attack, the PSNI cordon off the nationalist area, using armoured vehicles and riot clad officers wielding batons and plastic bullet guns at the ready.
At the corner of the street, a couple have been inadvertently separated by a line of PSNI officers blocking the roadway with batons and shields. The man remonstrates with the PSNI officers and the woman behind the line is clearly pleading and calling to her partner.
Anthony Farrelly was hit in the chest with a plastic bullet fired by the British Army in the Short Strand on Tuesday 14 May. The 16-year-old was hit in the chest, contrary to the rules for firing the weapon which say it must be aimed below the waist
Sean Devenny approaches the PSNI lines and talks with an officer and the local man. His gestures, captured on film, are slow and deliberate as he is clearly attempting to keep the situation calm. Sometimes Sean has his back to the PSNI line, reassuring residents. Placing himself at the front, he is obviously attempting to block any provocative behaviour from either the angry resident or the PSNI. The situation appears tense but stable.
Behind the PSNI lines a loyalist continues to stone nationalists but remains unchallenged as more and more PSNI Land Rovers bring riot squad reinforcements to the scene.
Back at the line, a PSNI officer is videoed hitting the resident in the back, another man kicks one of the shields in frustration. The PSNI charge, batoning everyone in their path. In the mayhem, the video loses sight of Sean.
He was discovered by his neighbours moments later, lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood. Eyewitness accounts describe a PSNI officer batoning Sean. As he fell to the ground, the officer was seen hitting him with the baton again.
Sean is left unconscious and covered in blood. The PSNI made no attempt to arrest Sean. No member of the PSNI attempted to administer first aid. The PSNI did not call for an ambulance.
Two days later, sitting in the front living room of her Short Strand home, Joanne Devenny cradles her youngest son in her arms as she describes her husband's ordeal and injuries.
"Sean was taken to the City Hospital and then transferred to the RVH for neural surgery," says Joanne. "Although he regained consciousness after the surgery, he still doesn't realise the extent of his injuries and the likely long term consequences."
Joanne described how a car carrying known loyalists followed the ambulance to the City Hospital. At the hospital, staff were overheard discussing the extent of Sean's injuries with one loyalist who was wearing a UVF t-shirt. Loyalists threatened to 'finish him off'.
"So much has happened since Saturday," says Joanne. "Our lives have been turned upside down."