Friday, August 19, 2005

PSNI ignored vital witness

Connla Young:

A Catholic man caught up in the sectarian pogroms currently sweeping Co Antrim has been waiting almost five months to have a vital witness statement taken by the PSNI.

Paul Johnston, who was in the home of a nationalist family when it was attacked by loyalists in March, has criticised the PSNI for failing to fully investigate the current round of anti-Catholic attacks.

Mr Johnston, from North Antrim, was in the Brookfield Gardens home of Kathleen McCaughey in Ahoghill when it was targeted by loyalists. During a terrifying incident, two loyalists kicked down the Catholic woman’s front door and ordered her to leave within 48 hours. The grandmother eventually left the house on July 11 after being attacked on four subsequent occasions.

Mr Johnston, who was involved in a relationship with Mrs McCaughey’s daughter at the time of the March incident, said the PSNI failed to take a written statement from him despite his willingness to provide one.

“I gave them my details after the first incident and then gave a verbal account to the police,” he said.

“They said they would come back to me for a statement but I have never been contacted. They know who is doing this and to me their lack of action shows they are not interested in catching these people.”

Mr Johnston, who was also in the house on another occasion when it was petrol-bombed, said that until then he had no idea of the level of violence being directed towards nationalist residents in the area. He also dismissed nationalist support of the PSNI in the wake of the attacks.

“We are supposed to be equal now with a new police force but I can’t see who is going to support a new police force like that. The whole experience was very frightening, I had never come across anything like that before. I never saw such sectarianism; it’s not right. I have never been back in Ahoghill since. If I had known it was as bad as that I would not have been there in the first place.”
A spokesman for the PSNI said they were “unable to establish” if Mr Johnston’s statement was taken.

“If this man hasn’t been contacted by now and he wants to make contact he can do so with the duty inspector at Ballymena,” he added.

In the past month, two Catholic families have abandoned their homes in the unionist village of Ahoghill after a sustained campaign of intimidation.

On Tuesday, Pat and Patsy McGaughey vowed to leave the village when their “dream” home was targeted by loyalist paint bombers. A Catholic church and primary school as well as a Catholic-owned public house in the town have also been targeted by loyalists recently.

Yesterday the PSNI’s Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton sparked a furious response from nationalist representatives by claiming that the attacks in Ahoghill were not “purely sectarian”.

Ballymena Sinn Féin councillor Monica Digney criticised the senior policeman’s remarks.

“He must be the only man in Ireland that doesn’t believe these incidents are purely sectarian. The kerb stones in Ahoghill are painted the same colour as the paint thrown at houses. These attacks are sectarian and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.”

Ballymena SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan said he was baffled by the PSNI man’s remarks.

“I am not aware of anything that suggests this is not sectarian. Where Paul Leighton is coming from I don’t know.”

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