7 October 1999 Edition

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RUC accused of ball-bearing attack

A 15-year-old West Belfast girl, Aisling Armstrong, has accused the RUC of firing a potentially lethal ball bearing at her from the back of a Land Rover as she walked along Broadway in West Belfast on Tuesday evening, 28 September - a claim backed up by her friend, who was with her at the time.

The girl's mother said Aisling ``saw a flash coming from the back of a Land Rover and heard a deafening bang as she fell to the ground''. The mother returned to the scene of the attack one hour after the incident and found a ball bearing, which she handed over to the RUC for forensics.

The girl is a niece of Nora McCabe, who was killed by a plastic bullet in July 1981 as she walked to the shops near her Falls Road home - the fatal shot was also fired from the back of an RUC Land Rover.

RUC men interviewed Aisling at her home after her irate mother made a formal complaint, but the RUC in West Belfast are now saying that they have ``no record of any such incident or any such complaint'', according to the local Andersonstown News newspaper.

Aisling said: ``I don't think I'll be seeing that ball bearing again - it'll probably get lost along the way. I know it was the RUC trying to scare me.''

Nora McCabe's family have fought a long campaign to identify and prosecute her RUC killer. No RUC officer has ever been charged, and the initial RUC reaction was to claim that they had not even been in the area at the time of her murder. The RUC commander who gave the order from inside the Land Rover to fire the fatal plastic bullet, James Critchley, was later promoted to Assistant Chief Constable.

This potentially lethal ball-bearing attack by the RUC comes against the background of a disturbing trend that has seen nationalist homes across West Belfast targeted for repeated attack. It provides prima facia evidence, at least, to show that the RUC is involved in a low level campaign directed towards Catholics.

Since last summer, homes in the Lagmore area and especially Glengoland, have been subjected to ball-bearing attacks on an almost weekly basis, with some homes being attacked at least five times. Local Lisburn Sinn Féin councillor Paul Butler says that ``to date, the RUC have done nothing about this campaign of sectarian harassment.''

Nationalist homes on a route from the loyalist Black's Road area beside Woodbourne RUC barracks through the Lagmore area and Dunmurray Lane and the Upper Twinbrook area have been targeted. Houses in Stockman's Lane, Owenvarragh Gardens and Moorland Crescent in Lower Andersonstown, where a number of Sinn Féin spokespersons live, have also been attacked. In one night two months ago, 20 homes were attacked.

Homes in and around the St James's area of West Belfast have also been subjected to repeated attacks. One local family has been targeted so frequently that their front window now resembles a sieve. Janice Austin lives with her daughter and grand-daughter. After over 30 attacks in the last 18 months and three replacement windows, they now routinely check the window for new damage every time they return home.

``No one can sit in the front room,'' said Janice, ``the window [which bears the scars of 14 attacks at present] will eventually come in.''

Sinn Féin councillor Paul Butler, who has been monitoring the attacks, told An Phoblacht that ``although these attacks have largely been random sectarian attacks, several republican activists have been specifically targeted and repeatedly attacked''.

The targeting of republican activists, many of whom would have a very low profile except in the `disband the RUC' campaign, together with the allegation of RUC involvement in the attack on Aisling Armstrong, suggests a deliberate and co-ordinated loyalist campaign with an element of RUC endorsement.

Butler is questioning the lack of control over the sale of the ball-bearing pellet guns. ``It is a worrying situation. These lethal weapons are on sale with no restraint, anyone can go out and buy them,'' he said.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1