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13 March 2003 Edition

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Notorious loyalist walks free

The North's judiciary is at the centre of a new controversy after notorious County Down loyalist Darren Watson was allowed to walk free from court after being found guilty of possession of a revolver.

Watson, who was on license from prison when he was arrested in April 2002, was given a conditional discharge last Thursday, 6 March.

Watson, from Kinelarty Walk, Ballynahinch in County Down, was arrested at gunpoint after the PSNI rammed his car in Ballynahinch last year. When searched at the scene, Watson was found to have a Smith and Wesson revolver wrapped in in a sock in his pocket.

The South Down loyalist claimed he was carrying the gun for his own protection after being informed by the PSNI his life had been threatened by the IRA.

Watson was caught with the revolver less that two months after being released from jail where he was serving a five-year sentence for his part in a punishment beating committed in 1998.

Watson was given a two-year conditional discharge, despite having previous convictions for grievous bodily harm, assault, criminal damage, riotous behaviour, indecency, burglary and theft, as well as pleading guilty to possession of the weapon in suspicious circumstances.


Cupples accused refused bail




The loyalist accused of killing 25 year old Protestant David Cupples, who died on Christmas day 2002, was said to have told friends he got a Taig, and thought he had killed him, a Belfast court heard last week..

Cupples, who lived in the Braniel estate in East Belfast, was attacked at Clifton Park Avenue, North Belfast as he made his way to work in the kitchen at Girwood British Army barracks on the 22 December.

William Hill (20), from Southport Street in the Shankill area of Belfast, was arrested after the PSNI found his jeans and blood-stained jacket in a coal bunker at his home. An attempt had been made to to burn the jacket.

Two others were later charged with assisting an offender. It was alleged Hill told them he had "got a Taig" and thought he had killed him.

Hill, who has been in custody since 6 January, when he was charged with killing Cupples, was applying for bail at Belfast's High Court on Thursday, 6 March.

Prosecuting lawyer David Hopley told the court that when Hill arrived at Tennent Street PSNI station he was accompanied by leading loyalist John White, who has since fled the Six Counties. "You may draw certain conclusions from that and his involvement in the organisation which Mr White represented," he said.

Refusing bail, Judge Coghlin said: "This was a sectarian murder and there is a risk of further offence against what the applicant himself referred to as a 'Taig'."


Girl carried bomb into home




A Catholic family of six had a very lucky escape after their 13-year-old daughter carried a primed UDA pipe bomb into their house in the Deerfin area of County Antrim at around 6pm on Thursday, 6 March.

Disaster was only averted when the girl's older brother realised what the six-inch long metal pipe was and carried it back outside. Six people were in the house at the time, including the girl's mother, father and three brothers.

Sinn Féin councillor for North Antrim, Philip McGuigan, put the blame firmly at they feet of the UDA.

"The fact that these UDA-orchestrated pipe bombings are continuing only proves their so-called ceasefire was only announced to cover their criminal activities. But for the quick thinking of the boy, we could have had a disaster in this home."


LVF bomber gets 12 years




Meanwhile, a Crown Court Judge branded as "despicable cowardly bigots" a four-strong LVF gang who killed a Protestant grandmother married to a Catholic as he jailed one of them for 12 years.

Elizabeth O'Neill (59) died in her Corcrain home in Portadown in June 1999. She was attempting to throw the LVF bomb back out her window when it exploded, killing her.

Jailing Philip Blaney (37) from Shimna Walk in Lurgan, Judge Coghlin said: "It was difficult to conceive of a more cowardly, bigoted or despicable activity than the killing of 59-year-old Mrs O'Neill."

Blaney was not one of the duo who actually targeted the O'Neill home, but was part of a second two-man team intent on bombing the home of another mixed marriage family.

The LVF man was sentenced to concurrent terms of between eight and ten years for possession of two pipe bombs on 5 June 1999 and of having a Magnum handgun.

Also last week, it was revealed that the British Army's bomb disposal squads have had to deal with more than 600 bombs in the past three years. Almost all of these bombs, which included devices that exploded and others that failed to explode, were used by unionist paramilitaries in attacks on Catholics.
The figures also reveal that 236 of the devices exploded in the past three years; again most used by loyalists against Catholic homes.


Sinn Féin rubbish PUP Antrim claims




Sinn Féin councillors in Antrim Martin Meehan and Martin McManus have accused PUP member Ken Wilkinson of trying to cover up the systematic campaign of sectarian attacks by loyalists against Catholics in Antrim Town.

The Sinn Féin duo were responding to claims made by Wilkinson that nationalists were responsible for trouble that erupted in the Castle Shopping Centre in Antrim on Saturday 1 March.

Wilkinson claimed he held a three-day investigation into the trouble, which saw a number of nationalists assaulted, including a family of four. A young boy had his hand broken and two others received cuts and bruises.

In response to Wilkinson's claims, Sinn Féin has called for CCTV video coverage from the centre's cameras to be released immediately.

Meehan has told An Phoblacht that shoppers at the Castle Centre complex were once again horrified by, "a highly intimidating loyalist show of strength led by PUP man Ken Wilkinson and more than 20 UVF thugs on Saturday 8 March".

"Later that day, a youth was viciously beaten by a unionist mob outside the local bookies while the PSNI looked on," said Meehan, who added that a gang of loyalists also attacked nationalists as they walked through the Stiles estate in Antrim.


Ormeau homes attacked




South Belfast Sinn Féin councillor and Mayor of Belfast, Alex Maskey, has accused the UDA of trying to whip up tensions in the area after nationalist homes were attacked in Dromara Street off the Lower Ormeau Road and a machine gun was found in an entry to the rear of Derlett Street on the upper Ormeau Road on Wednesday, 5 March.

"Given the fact the UDA have in recent times been active in the Ormeau area, nationalists will be justifiably worried that the UDA is not serious about ending their violence directed at the nationalist community."

He called on nationalists to be very vigilant in the coming weeks.


Catholic youth stabbed




A 19-year-old Catholic man had a lucky escape after being attacked at the loyalist Tullyally estate in Derry at around 3.30pm on Monday 10 March.

The young man was on his way to meet some friends at Milltown Crescent in the Curryneirin area when he was punched from behind and stabbed in the left hand and right thigh before managing to escape his two attackers.

Sinn Féin councillor for the Waterside, Lynn Fleming, said she was deeply worried about the nature and timing of the attack.

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