Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sectarian gang tries to burn Catholic family alive

Ciarán Barnes:

A young Catholic family is considering moving out of their new north Belfast home after it was targeted by loyalists in an arson attack.

A loyalist gang from the White City area yesterday tried to burn down the Old Throne Park home of Mickey Magennis.

His girlfriend, Juanita Magennis, and 12-week-old baby daughter Mollie narrowly escaped injury in the blaze that left the house in the Whitewell district, extensively damaged.

Mr Magennis told Daily Ireland his family is lucky to be alive and are now considering moving out of the area.

“We only moved into the house in February,” said the 27-year-old father of one.

“We have a mortgage and are trying to make a life, and then something like this happens.

“This could have been much worse. My girlfriend woke up when she heard the window smashing. If she had not got up both her and the baby would have burned to death.”

Mr Magennis said he was considering asking the Housing Executive to buy the house under the Special Purchase of Evicted Dwellings (SPED) scheme. A number of his neighbours, who have also been the victims of loyalist attacks, have had similar requests turned down by the Housing Executive.

Sinn Féin councillor Tierna Cunningham hit out at the loyalist gang behind the arson attack. She accused them of attempted murder.

“They are a young couple with a young baby, trying to make a start in life, and this type of thing, in this day and age, is not on,” sh said.

“The grass is completely covered with oil, the windows are burned ou and the house is completely black at the back. The attack amounts to attempted murder.”

Firefighters who battled the blaze said the flames were 20 feet high when they arrived.

Station Commander Mark Beresford said the Magennis family was fortunate to escape.

“I think they were alerted fairly early on. One of the neighbours knocked the door and at the same time, the windows started to smash so the woman and the child were able to get out fairly quickly,” he said.

“They were fairly lucky, if it had been much longer this coul have been a tragedy.”

Attacks on Catholic homes in the Whitewell have increased in recent weeks. At the beginning of the month, there was a tense stand off between rival groups amid claims a Catholic man had been assaulted and a Protestant teenager hit by a car. Last year three homes on Old Throne Park suffered severe damage in a sectarian arson attack. Loyalists set light to an oil tank at the rear of a property which spread to neighbouring houses.

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