The mixed village of Stoneyford is once again making the news following the latest series of attacks on catholic residents by a locally based loyalist gang. In the past fortnight, three generations of one catholic family have been targeted by loyalists. In the first attack, the windows of an elderly woman’s home were smashed; subsequently, her son-in-law received the latest death threat to be issued against catholic families residing in the area; and last evening, three loyalists targeted the 12-year old son and grandson of the previous victims (contrary to UTV reports, at 6:30pm and not 10:30pm), as well as another catholic child who was threatened by the men.The attacks come just weeks after a Sinn Fein delegation met with the Assistant Chief Constable, Duncan McCausland, to demand action be taken against the loyalists who have long held the mixed community to ransom. During the meeting, Mr. McCausland denied the accusation that the leader of this gang was protected due to his suspected status as a British/ Police agent.
The targeting of this particular family on this occasion has its roots in an earlier incident some time ago, when the gang’s ringleader issued a threat to two children playing in the village, one catholic and one protestant, because he objected to one of the children wearing a GAA shirt. Sinn Fein- and the PSNI- have been informed of several other similar incidents in which children and adults have been on the receiving end of such threats in the village, though due to the ‘charmed’ status of the culprit, most victims (and their parents) simply refuse to proceed with charges.
When this family reported the incident to the PSNI and indicated a desire to proceed with charges, they began to receive death threats. Subsequently, the family were then contacted by a very senior Ulster Unionist politician in the Lagan Valley constituency, who wanted to act in a mediating role between the loyalist gang leader and the family, suggesting a face to face meeting in a local business complex. Soon after, the family dropped the charges, believing it would mean an end to the threats.
But, of course, things didn’t work out that way.
During the past week, the PSNI held a coffee morning in a local Protestant church hall to encourage residents to come forward with information about those involved in the latest attacks as well as other incidents. During the course of the event, one of the leading loyalist’s henchmen based in the village entered the hall “to represent the loyalists” based in the village, a statement and development widely interpreted as an act of intimidation against locals seeking to share information with the PSNI, and PSNI officers subsequently removed him from the premises.