The PSNI police has been strongly criticised after allowing a mob of loyalists to attack defenceless nationalists after wrecking a billboard erected in honour of the 1981 hungerstrikers.
Four nationalists were hospitalised after a busload of loyalists went on the rampage on the Glenshane Pass, near Maghera, on Monday evening.
An elderly man, two teenage boys and their mother were injured.
During the hour-long incident, 71-year-old John Convery was beaten to the ground after challenging up to 30 loyalists from Derry city who had vandalised the roadside mural dedicated to the 1981 hunger strikers. An elderly neighbour who came to his aid was also savagely assaulted.
Mr Convery’s car was damaged in the attack. The loyalist mob then stole his car keys and made off.
It is understood that a number of people on the bus had taken part in a soccer match earlier in the day.
The PSNI later intercepted the bus, which was taken to the nearby town of Tobermore.
Mr Convery later arrived at the scene with a number of people. He made a complaint to the PSNI and offered to identify his attackers.
“I was attending to my sheep when I saw these people shouting and roaring and noticed that the mural was wrecked,” said Mr Convery.
“I stopped with them and asked them what they were doing. I told them that they were trespassing. Before I knew it, there were four or five people in my face. Then one of them hit me and cowped me. I never saw anything like that in my life.
“I later asked the police if they had got their names after they stopped them and they said ‘no’. Another man offered to identify them.
“Then the police said they were taking them to the barracks in Magherafelt, but they didn’t. They let them go instead. All the time, these boys were roaring and shouting like wild animals.”
After being released by the PSNI, the loyalists returned to the Glenshane Pass. Incredibly, they then attacked Kathleen Hegarty and her sons Rory and Ciaran in their home as a PSNI unit looked on.
Magherafelt Sinn Féin councillor Patsy Groogan slammed those involved in the attack.
“I condemn the thugs and challenge the RUC/PSNI why, when they had three opportunities to defuse this situation, they did nothing.
“John Convery had nothing to do with this billboard and neither had this woman and her sons.
“The behaviour of the attackers and the PSNI, who allowed the bus to stop a second time and those in it to attack this family, is unacceptable,” said the councillor.
Meanwhile, a County Derry hotelier has vowed to defy “sectarian thugs” who threatened his life and his business premises before going on a wrecking spree in Garvagh village.
Terrence McIlvar, the Catholic owner of the Imperial Hotel, said attacks in the early hours of Saturday morning which left his hotel, a car and two houses belonging to Catholic families damaged were carried out by a “handful of bigoted yahoos”.
Two men were arrested in connection with the trouble.
Mr McIlvar, who bought the hotel on Garvagh Main Street a year ago, said the same people who caused the weekend trouble have threatened him previously.
Sinn Féin assembly member Billy Leonard said the trouble was caused by “pathetic sectarian people”.
“What happened in Garvagh was most definitely pure sectarian hatred whereby thugs play out their mindless games denigrating and physically attacking those who are the good people in this scenario,” he said.
“The sectarian attackers have put pressure on the hotel owners and their home but they will continue to live and work as they have done and they will also continue making a contribution to the community - something their attackers seem incapable of doing.”