Appeal to Dublin, UN over Orange judiciary

A Victims' group is seeking a meeting with the Irish government amid growing concerns that unionist paramilitaries are being treated leniently by the courts.

The Relatives for Justice group, which represents up to 400 families whose loved ones have been killed by loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces, also plan to submit a dossier to the UN special rapporteur detailing a number of cases in which it is claimed loyalist paramilitaries received `lenient' sentences, despite being charged with serious offences.

On Thursday a Belfast court quashed a six-year jail term against UDA leader Andre Shoukri, who was caught with a handgun in September last year, ruling that he had the gun for his own protection.

In June of this year south Down loyalist Darren Watson (28) was given a two-year conditional discharge for possession of a handgun, despite having only been released from prison two months before for his part in a UDA punishment beating.

In April 2002 police were forced to ram Watson's car off the road and apprehend him at gunpoint in Ballynahinch after he refused to stop when challenged.

When searched at the scene a Smith and Wesson revolver was found wrapped in a sock in Watson's pocket.

The court heard that although the weapon was disabled, attempts had been made to reactivate it.

Watson, who has previous convictions for grievous bodily harm, assault, criminal damage, riotous behaviour, indecency, burglary and theft, pleaded guilty to possession of the weapon in suspicious circumstances.

He was given a two-year conditional discharge.

In 1997 Darren Watson was questioned by police investigating the brutal murder of Catholic schoolboy James Morgan, whose badly burned body was found dumped in an animal pit outside Clough village in Co Down.

He was later released without charge.

When arrested last April Watson had only been out of prison for two months where he had been serving a five-year sentence for his part in a UDA punishment beating committed in 1998.

Less than a month later nationalist politicians again expressed anger when a senior Portadown loyalist, facing 64 serious charges including attempted murder and directing the activities of the LVF, was given special permission to attend a Twelfth parade.

William James Fulton had his bail conditions relaxed so he could watch the July 12 parade in the town.

The 34-year-old brother of dead LVF leader Mark `Swinger' Fulton, who was described in court as a `dedicated terrorist' was also allowed to attend the re-enactment of the Battle of the Boyne the next day.

At the time the loyalist was on bail awaiting trial for a total of 64 charges including aiding and abetting the murder of grandmother Elizabeth O'Neill, who was killed in a pipe-bomb attack at her home in the mainly loyalist Corcrain estate in Portadown in June 1999.

Fulton, who was arrested in England two years ago by detectives investigating the 1999 murder of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson, was also accused of a number of attempted murders as well as possession of guns and explosives and supplying Class A and B drugs, all be-tween June 1997 and September 1999.

In December 2000, Shankill loyalist Thomas Potts appeared in court on attempted murder charges arising out of a UDA attack on the Rex Bar on the Shankill Road in August of that year which sparked a loyalist feud.

Potts was told by the trial judge he `might' get bail, if there was a public statement that the UDA/UVF feud was over.

``I hope you will encourage your friends to make an announcement and then you might get bail,'' the judge told Potts.

Subsequently released on bail, Potts was later arrested in August 2002 and charged with trying to extort money for the UDA from an undercover policeman posing as a building contractor.

In June this year Potts was jailed for four years for his part in the attack on the Rex Bar.

It emerged in court that Potts had escaped having to serve the remaining eight years of a 16-year sentence he had received in 1993 for conspiracy to murder, because his parole licence had expired 12 days before the attack on the Rex Bar.

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