16 July 2005

This loyalist feud goes on, but why?

Belfast Telegraph

Just over a year ago the UVF and the LVF agreed to a truce following weeks of feuding that left one man dead and dozens of families driven from their homes. That uneasy peace has now begun to unravel with two men shot dead by the UVF and one man fighting for his life after being gunned down by the LVF. As those living in loyalist communities brace themselves for further attacks and retaliation, Mary Fitzgerald reports on the background to the deadly tensions between the UVF and the LVF and why many believe this latest bout is far from over.

By Mary Fitzgerald
16 July 2005

Early evening on Eleventh Night in Belfast and the signs are everywhere. Signs that all is not well. Signs that things could possibly get worse. On gable walls on the upper Shankill where graffiti still gloats over the UVF murder of Jameson Lockhart.

On wooden hoardings that lean against as yet unlit bonfires in areas where the UVF dominates. "LVF/IRA" reads one on the lower Newtownards Road. "F*** the LVF" is the blunt message at the Donegall Pass bonfire. At the site at Pitt Park in east Belfast, just metres away from where Lockhart died after the lorry he sat in was raked with gunfire 11 days previously, three black LVF flags and two funeral wreaths are perched on top of the bonfire. Rumours fly that the wreaths have been stolen from Lockhart's grave, a claim later proved false. The mood here and elsewhere in the city is tense and everyone talks about the latest shooting.

Just that morning three UVF gunmen smashed their way into a house at Dhu Varren in the Woodvale area and opened fire on 20-year-old father Craig McCausland, hitting him at least five times. McCausland, whose partner, Kathy, and her two children, aged nine and six, were also at home at the time, died later in hospital.

Soon after the shooting, a man escaped a murder bid by jumping from the window of a house in nearby Woodvale Pass as masked men tried to smash their way in.

Earlier that night David Hanley, 21, was shot several times as he walked his dogs past a bonfire site on the Crumlin Road. Hanley, who was hit at least once in the head, remains in a critical condition following emergency surgery. The LVF is believed to have been behind the attack. In another incident blamed on the LVF, a mother and child escaped injury early on Sunday morning when shots were fired into a house on Silverstream Avenue and at a nearby address.

"Everyone is scared about what might happen next," explains one woman standing a few streets away from where McCausland was shot. "We've been here before and we know what this can descend into - tit-for-tat shootings and innocent people being killed.

"People are worried and afraid for their kids' safety," she says, pulling her children closer. "Who knows what might happen."

Further north in Ballysillan, around a bonfire ringed with LVF flags fluttering from poles, the mood is one of defiant anger.

"Another innocent person shot dead by murdering scum," says one thirtysomething man, referring to the shooting of Craig McCausland, whose family, and the LVF, would later insist had no paramilitary connections whatsover.

"This is starting to get far more serious. People are talking about revenge."

His friend agrees. "It's bad this time. The ball has only started rolling."

It's not the first time the long-standing fear and loathing between the LVF and UVF has spilled over into violence and murder. In the alphabet soup of loyalist paramilitarism, the enmity between the UVF and its splinter group runs deep. The bad blood between the two goes back to the birth of the LVF in 1996 when Billy Wright was expelled from the UVF after his gang murdered Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick in Portadown. Since then residual resentments, shifting loyalties and festering tensions have periodically erupted into vicious and deadly feuding that has claimed more than a dozen lives, including Portadown UVF leader Richard Jameson, Red Hand Commando boss Jim "Jonty" Johnston, LVF drug dealer Steven Warnock and, in May last year, LVF member Brian Stewart.

As one loyalist source put it: "Not one of the feuds between the UVF and the LVF has been resolved completely at any stage since 1996 - it's like a family feud that never really goes away."

The killing of Stewart, shot as he arrived for work at an east Belfast industrial estate, sparked off weeks of threats, attacks and intimidation that resulted in several families driven from their homes in east Belfast and Co Down.

Mediators, including Rev Mervyn Gibson, a Presbyterian minister, and Sammy Douglas, an east Belfast community worker, helped broker a truce between the two groups which apparently included a "no first strike" agreement. An uneasy peace had followed until it all began to unravel again in recent months.

The background to the latest round of feuding is a mix of threats, warnings and what one source described wearily as "low-level stuff that just piled up into something more serious".

Cars were attacked on both sides, shots were fired as intermittent warnings and at one stage every pub in east Belfast with UVF associations was daubed with LVF slogans overnight. Several observers believe there was a deliberate attempt by LVF members to ratchet up tensions between the two groups.

A few weeks ago, a number of UVF members in the Ballycraigy estate in Antrim were forced out of their homes by the LVF, upping the ante until the murder of Jameson Lockhart by the UVF on July 1.

It wasn't the first time he was targeted. Lockhart, who lived in Ballysillan, is understood to have been friends with two brothers from the same area who are senior LVF members. His construction business had been attacked before and in January, Paul Crooks, a 23-year-old from Highview Crescent, appeared in court charged with the attempted murder of Lockhart and two others - Gareth Kincaid and Barry Smith. This related to an incident in Highfield during which shots were fired at a van. The charges were dropped following Lockhart's murder, although the decision is not believed to be linked.

Since his murder, several of Lockhart's relatives have received threats and a number have been forced to leave their homes.

There is some concern that attempts at mediation between the two groups have apparently failed in recent weeks. "Neither side is looking for a solution at the moment," said one source.

There is talk of some leading figures "going to ground", a claim dismissed by others; talk of bulletproof vests and personal security guards; talk of this bout of violence as just another stage in a bitter war of attrition with the only solution, in the eyes of the UVF, the routing of the LVF in Belfast. In a chilling warning delivered by masked UVF gunmen at the Pitt Park bonfire on Monday night, the organisation said it would "wipe out" the rival group.

Another worrying aspect of this latest chapter of loyalist feuding is the relatively young age of those caught up in it, whether unwitting victims or protagonists. All of those killed or shot in recent weeks have been 25 or under.

There is speculation that the gunman responsible for shooting David Hanley is only 16 and those who killed Jameson Lockhart just a little older.

As one source put it: "The guys involved in this are too young to remember any split between the UVF and the LVF, they're too young to know what it was like then and that's a real concern."

For now though, those living in loyalist areas in Belfast and elsewhere hold their breath amid fears of imminent retaliation.

"I think we're in for a bloody few weeks," one source said. "Those two deaths will not be the last."

the lvf are nothing but hoods with guns..they should have been sent on the boat along with johnny adairs c/company.they have did more harm to the protestant community than the IRA did in 30 years..
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