15 May 2003 Edition

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Short Strand residents on alert after loyalist violence

Short Strand residents fear a long hot summer after rival UDA and UVF members clashed on the Castlereagh Road in East Belfast in the early hours of Sunday morning, 11 May, in which one men was shot and another is in hospital with serious head injuries.

Trouble erupted after a loyalist band parade, when UDA members attacked the King Richard bar, where UVF members had been drinking.

A 27-year-old man is in a stable condition after he was shot in the shoulder and a 38-year-old man is in a critical condition in hospital after he received serious head injuries in the trouble, which started around 2.30am and lasted for more than an hour.

Short Strand residents fear feuding loyalists will turn their guns on the Short Strand in the coming weeks.

Sinn Féin councillor for East Belfast, Joe O'Donnell, told An Phoblacht that people in the Short Strand are very fearful the same old scenario will play itself out again.

"These gangs have a habit of uniting together to launch sectarian attacks against Catholics in vulnerable areas," he said. "Only on Saturday, armed loyalists forced a workman to tear a CCTV camera down outside St Matthew's chapel and they have been stacking their bonfire wood across from the chapel."

He said the people of the Short Strand have just came through some of the worst violence the area has ever seen and residents don't want to spend another summer in boarded up homes and being attacked with loyalist pipe and petrol bombs.

Senior loyalist drug dealer killed

Jim 'Jonty' Johnston, a senior member of the UVF-affiliated Red Hand Commando unionist death squad who was shot dead outside his luxury County Down home on Thursday night, 8 May, is thought to have been killed in a dispute over drugs.

Johnston was gunned down outside his £500,000 home on the Ballyrobert Road outside the village of Crawfordsburn by two men, who shot him more than 20 times with a weapon that was used in two previous loyalist killings.

The killing has not been claimed by any organisation, but there is growing speculation that the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) was involved.

A vehicle belonging to Johnston was discovered on fire in nearby Conlig before he was killed and there are unconfirmed reports that a weapon was recovered in the area.

A man arrested in the early hours of Monday 12 May is still being questioned about the killing.

Johnston's Red Hand Commando unit was blamed in loyalist quarters for the drive-by killing of prominent LVF member Stephen Warnock in Newtownards last September.

The LVF initially held UDA elements responsible for Warnock's killing and tried to kill East Belfast UDA chief Jim Gray in retaliation. A subsequent feud led directly to the violent split between Johnny Adair's C company, who backed the LVF, and the leadership of the UDA.

Celtic player targeted again

A 19-year-old man has been charged by Strathclyde police following a sectarian attack on Glasgow Celtic football player Neil Lennon last week.

The 31-year-old Lurgan born player, along with a female companion, was assaulted by three men as they were getting into his car in Great Western Road in the Hillhead area of Glasgow in the early hours of Thursday, 8 April.

The couple drove off but the car was chased by the men, who kicked it as it stopped at traffic lights. Lennon was assaulted and his companion was pushed over the car as the Celtic player confronted the attackers.

Lennon suffered a cut lip.

Scottish detectives believe the person who posted a death threat against Lennon on an unofficial Glasgow Rangers website was involved in the assault. The message, warning that Lennon would 'get his comeuppance' and threatening to break Lennon's arms and legs, was delivered within an hour of the sectarian attack and before details had reached the media.

A second man was arrested for questioning about the incident on Tuesday 13 April.

Lennon retired from playing for the Six-County soccer team last year after receiving loyalist death threats before a friendly match against Cyprus and only last week Strathclyde police were investigating menacing phone calls made to the player's mobile phone.

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill has also been a victim of sectarian abuse in calls to his mobile phone.

An Phoblacht
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