02 April 2006

Anatomy of a bloody feud...

Belfast Telegraph

**Via Newshound

It is a family dispute which has escalated into brutal killing and tit-for-tat attacks. Reporters Ashleigh Wallace and Lisa Smyth hear both sides of the story of the Ballymurphy feud

By Ashleigh Wallace and Lisa Smyth
newsdesk@belfasttelegraph.co.uk
01 April 2006

Family describes long list of brutal attacks: The Devlins

By Lisa Smyth

Gerard Devlin was stabbed to death in a street fight as a feud between the two west Belfast families reached a bloody culmination in February this year.

In a candid interview with the Belfast Telegraph, his wife, Aine Devlin, and aunt, Bernadette O'Rawe, detailed the violence and intimidation they claim their family suffered for almost three years before the murder.

And they strongly condemned petrol bomb attacks on a number of homes in recent months, with Bernadette saying: "We don't want these burnings because it takes away from the fact that we have someone lying dead and we also don't want to see someone else dead.

"God forbid anyone should be burnt in their bed but we don't have any influence or control over the community and the people carrying out these attacks."

According to the two women, Gerard was targeted because he refused to be intimidated by the Notorantonio family and the matter came to a head on May 16, 2003, when the father-of-six was attacked as he returned home from the pub.

"There had been words before but nothing more than a fist lifted until this point," explained Bernadette.

"Gerard was stabbed in the head and his throat was cut an eighth of an inch from his jugular vein for which he needed 32 stitches."

Aine and Bernadette claim this was the beginning of a series of violent attacks prior to the death of Gerard some 34 months later.

"After the stabbing, Gerard was constantly being threatened and his kids were being taunted and that's very hard for any mummy or daddy to put up with," said Bernadette.

"Every time Gerard was provoked, we would get the Community Restorative Justice organisation involved - Gerard went to every meeting he was asked to attend, he worked with the police and the CRJ, he even got involved in mediation with priests, but nothing seemed to work."

Bernadette said the next significant incident occurred two years later on August 29, 2005, when Gerard, who she said had moved away from his Whiterock Parade home in an effort to defuse the tensions, was allegedly attacked as he came to collect some of his children.

"Gerard stayed out of the area which was very tough, but it showed the man in him and how far he was prepared to go for his family but when he came to take one of the kids to hospital, he was deliberately rammed by another car when he had three of his children in the car," she explained.

"He got out of the car and they came at him with a pitchfork and when he put his hands up to protect himself he was hit and his finger was almost severed."

As Gerard tried to flee the scene, both women claim the youngster's lives were put in danger when a spade was thrown through the back window of the car, prompting Gerard to press for a police investigation into the stabbing incident two years earlier.

The women also claim the violence continued later the same day when Gerard returned home to see his children and during a confrontation, a gun was pointed at his chest.

"The next day Gary and I were walking down the street and the same person who put the gun to Gerard's chest shouted at us, 'your dad is dead later on'," Aine claimed, adding that in October last year, the Devlin family discovered there was a £10,000 bounty on the life of the father-of-six.

Recalling the frantic moments after Gerard was stabbed in February, Aine went on to describe the devastating effect her husband's murder has had on her and their children.

"After Gerard was stabbed I was trying to hold him up because he had fallen over the car bonnet, he knew he was dying - he even told me so and he blessed himself.

"You could see the blood leaving him, he was turning grey and once the blood came out of his mouth, we knew there was no hope.

"He was awfully good to his children. He was a family man who loved his kids and this is something we will never come to terms with."

Bernadette continued: "Aine has a really hard time, her youngest child is disabled and another of her sons was brain damaged last August but it's more dangerous now than it was before Gerard was murdered."

Ballymurphy family tells of constant fear: The Notorantonios

By Ashleigh Wallace

SINCE the death of Gerard Devlin, most of the Notorantonio family have been petrol bombed out of their homes on the Ballymurphy estate.

The eldest member of the family, 77-year old Edith Notorantonio, ended up in hospital as a result of the attacks on her family. Now, the grandmother is unable to return to her home of 53 years and is living in constant fear for her life.

Her son, Francis, had an angina attack after the house he was staying at in Whitecliff Parade was pelted front and back with petrol bombs.

And, as a result of the same incident, another family member broke her ankle jumping from an upstairs bedroom window to escape the flames.

Since the Devlin murder, around ten homes - including a holiday home in Donegal - have been attacked, rendering families with young children homeless. Cars have been burned out, businesses have been forced to close, threats have been issued and family pets have been butchered.

Some of the younger members of the family are afraid to go to school, while their mothers are too scared to use the local shops.

But, according to Victor Notorantonio (56), reports the tensions are down to a family feud are wrong.

Instead, he claims, the IRA is behind the attacks and is using a group of local teenagers - which the Notorantonio's have nicknamed 'the rugrats' - to carry out its work.

Victor said: "This is not a family feud, which is a mistake the media are making. This is the IRA trying to get my family out of the area, root and branch.

"The IRA leadership could stop this in a heartbeat. They used Gerard Devlin the same way they are using his family.

"I believe prominent members of the republican movement are behind the whole thing. "Whether they have the backing of the leadership, I don't know, but I know the only one that can stop this trouble is Gerry Adams himself."

He does admit that tensions between his family and the Devlins go back to around three-and-a-half years ago when his son and nephew were involved in a street fight with Gerard Devlin.

Gerard ended up with stab wounds, but Victor claims his son was acting in self defence as he was being attacked by a "local hard man with a history of violence."

As for Gerard's murder, three members of the Notorantonio family have been arrested and charged. All three have since been released on bail and are living in England.

Victor said: "At the end of the day, the truth about what happened that day is going to come out in court, so I would say to the Loughrans and the Devlins, tell the truth about exactly what happened."

In October 1987, Victor's father Francisco was shot dead by loyalists as he slept in his bed beside his wife.

Speculation remains that the murder was set up by the state to protect Freddie Scappaticci, who was last year unmasked as an IRA informer.

In recent weeks, graffiti has appeared in and around Ballymurphy, accusing the family of being 'MI5 touts'.

And Victor's reaction? "My brother wanted to go down and wash it off but I told him to leave it. We have nothing to hide."

His sister, Charlotte Burns, added: "It's rubbish. Why would I highlight my father's case if I or any of my family were touts.

"They're trying to put the onus back on us. My father was sacrificed for Scappaticci and by talking publicly about it, I've obviously rattled a few cages."

Charlotte's daughter, Gerardette Burns (18), said she is living in constant fear. Since tensions on the estate have boiled over, she has lost lifelong friends who she believes have been ordered not to talk to her.

She said: "I'm scared to go to sleep at night in case I don't wake up. We take shifts at night to keep awake and try and keep ourselves safe but we don't know when the next petrol bombing will be."

Some family members have installed CCTV to try and catch on camera those responsible for attacking their homes.

One incident which was captured on camera clearly shows a group of teenagers pelting a house with missiles and issuing threats in broad daylight.

When asked about claims that the IRA was behind the attacks on the Notorantonio family, a spokesman for Sinn Fein said: "That is absolute nonsense.

"No republicans have been involved in killing people in Ballymurphy, no republicans have been involved in shooting people in Ballymurphy and no republicans have been involved in petrol bombing people either.

"In fact, republicans have been up front in calling for all that activity to cease."

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