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3 April 2008 Edition

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Neo-Nazis slash Celtic supporter's throat in Belfast

By Laura Friel

A CELTIC supporter is fighting for his life after having his throat slashed when a sectarian gang targeted Catholics in Belfast City centre on Saturday afternoon, 29 March. The onslaught happened after the Irish Cup semi-final between Linfield and Cliftonville.
32-year-old Hugh McAnally’s throat was slashed by a 30-strong loyalist gang in what has been identified as a pre-meditated, sectarian attack.
The loyalist gang is believed to have links with the British neo-Nazi group Combat 18. Eyewitnesses said that the gang, some of whom had English accents, chanted “Combat 18, Combat 18!”, the name of the far-right gang that takes its title from Adolf Hitler’s initials, the first and eighth letters of the alphabet.
The attack took place 20 minutes after the PSNI was alerted by city centre bar staff that there was a gang intent on trouble stalking the streets. According to the bar staff, the gang had walked in around 1.45pm before the end of the football match and were overheard talking about “nabbing” Cliftonville supporters and giving them a hard time.
The gang left the bar at around 3pm to be photographed outside holding a huge Union Jack flag with the words “No Surrender” emblazoned upon it before walking toward the city centre. The bar staff immediately telephoned the PSNI to warn that there was a gang out looking for trouble.
The gang, described by eyewitnesses as all dressed smartly and sober, wore black coats buttoned up to their throats and black baseball caps. The attack took place around an hour after the Linfield v Cliftonville match in east Belfast.
The gang walked through the city centre into an area known to be widely used by nationalists. They were heard shouting neo-Nazi slogans as well as sectarian abuse.
The gang tried to force their way into Cosgrove’s Bar, at the junction of King Street and Castle Street, but were thwarted by customers who managed to lock the doors. Owner John Lennon said his bar had been targeted “for no other reason than Catholics were in it at the time”.
Outside the bar, the frustrated loyalist/C18 gang then turned on Hugh McAnally, who was wearing a Glasgow Celtic shirt. They left him bleeding profusely from a severe neck wound.

Initial media reports suggesting that trouble had broken out between rival football supporters have been rubbished by eyewitness accounts. “It wasn’t a fight,” said one man, who had been spat and sworn at by members of the gang. “This was an orchestrated attack. People were frightened for their lives.”
A friend of Hugh McAnally who had been smoking outside Cosgrove’s Bar saw the gang flood into Castle Street.
“One of them spat in my face and called me a Fenian bastard. They were all dressed the same and I ran into the bar shouting.”
Inside the bar was a small group of older men and a few younger men playing pool upstairs. “They ran down and stopped them from getting in the bar,” he said. Moments later, he was told his friend had been seriously injured outside.
“My son told me that Hugh was laying on the road. I went over. Hugh was unconscious and there was blood pumping out of his neck. Drivers from a taxi depot were working on him and then the ambulance crew arrived.”
Hugh McAnally, a Scotsman who has lived in North Belfast for a number of years, remains critical in intensive care at the Royal Victoria Hospital as An Phoblacht goes to press. A second injured man was taken to hospital but discharged a few hours later.
After the attack, the gang ran along King Street and towards Jury’s Hotel to Great Victoria Street, where they were seen undoing their jackets to reveal Linfield scarves and colours.

Earlier this week, a death threat was received by Cliftonville FC manager Eddie Patterson. A letter containing a bullet and addressed to the Cliftonville manager was intercepted by postal workers.
News of the threat had been suppressed prior to the match to avoid heightening tension. The match had been rescheduled to begin at 12.30 to avoid the possibility of supporters watching the televised ‘Big Firm’ Glasgow derby between Celtic and Rangers in bars before attending the match in east Belfast.
Despite the potential for trouble, tickets to watch Linfield were being openly sold without an identification requirement or a record of ticket purchasers. Cliftonville supporters not only required identification to buy a ticket but their names were recorded to ensure all those who attended the match would be traceable.
West Belfast MLA Paul Maskey, who arrived at the scene shortly after the attack, described the incident as a pre-meditated, sectarian attack. Maskey said Linfield supporters had arrived in Castle Street “intent on doing damage” and went to Cosgrove’s Bar “ready to kill”.
Sinn Féin has criticised the failure of the PSNI to respond urgently. “There are CCTV cameras all around the area and the PNSI is supposed to be monitoring them. Why was this allowed to happen?” Maskey asked.
“If action had been taken sooner, this awful demonstration of hate and sectarianism might not have taken place.”

This latest incident comes at a time when nationalists are already expressing serious doubts about the PSNI’s willingness to protect them. The attack on Hugh McAnally came exactly two weeks after the brutal murder of Lower Falls resident Frank ‘Bap’ McGreevy.
A suspect in the McGreevy killing had absconded from a Young Offenders’ Centre two weeks earlier but, despite being given information of his whereabouts, the PSNI failed to take action. Information of the suspect’s location after the attack was also given to the PSNI but still no action was taken.
In both incidents the failure of the PSNI to act on information has led to serious outcomes – in the case of Bap McGreevy, death; in the case of Hugh McAnally, a life-threatening injury.
Sinn Féin’s Tom Hartley, chair of the West Belfast District Policing Partnership, said there are hard-hitting questions to be answered by the PSNI about their operations and their responses to warnings from the public.

An Phoblacht
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