A car belonging to a feuding loyalist gang which was seized by the PSNI was destroyed, along with evidence of criminality, when it was left outside a PSNI station in north Down. The incident has renewed fears of continuing collusion between the police and unionist paramilitaries.
The BMW jeep was seized on Friday after it was used by several masked UDA members who assaulted a man in a disturbance at a shopping centre in Newtownards, County Down.
For reasons the PSNI have refused to explain, the vehicle was not secured, but was instead parked just yards from the main entrance gates to the PSNI station, where it was subsequently set on fire and extensively damaged.
The PSNI has dismissed concerns about the potential destruction or contamination of evidence, despite the vehicle being linked to several crimes as part of an ongoing feud.
The arson attack outside Dundonald PSNI station is the latest in over twenty attacks on homes and vehicles that have happened in north Down over the last fortnight which are linked to the feud.
Sitting in the black BMW X5 jeep, a gang of four men were also heard making threats to kill in Donaghadee and Newtownards.
According to the witnesses, threats were made to one male, saying: “You are a dead man…We’re going to rip your head off… You’re a dead man walking.”
The four men who were later arrested are said to be members of the self-styled ‘Real UFF’ [Ulster Freedom Fighters], a twist on a traditional cover name for UDA factions.
On Monday, asked men belonging to the gang gathered outside the courthouse and a nearby housing estate and school in Newtownards. Several of the buildings near the Weavers Grange housing estate have banners featuring UDA gunmen.
Children as young as three and four years old had to be rushed into their nursery school as word spread of the masked men marching through Newtownards.
It is former South East Antrim UDA members in the area who are calling themselves the “Real UFF” and are in a violent dispute with the North Down UDA, who have asked for “help” from the rival paramilitary UVF, which has support in the estate.
The ‘Real UFF’ was then publicly opposed by an unmasked ‘community walk through’ the West Winds Estate, including prominent loyalist Jamie Bryson.
A letter from the West Winds ‘Residents Collective’ states that any neighbours affiliated to the RUFF have been “asked to leave the area”.
Between 2009 and 2013, the Real UFF was responsible for around 24 attacks. The group’s alleged hitlist not only included the UDA leadership, but top loyalists Johnny Adair, Mo Courtney and Jim Spence. In February 2010, they issued a death threat against Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly and Gerry Adams. There were also a number of pipe bombings in Co Antrim.
Former DUP council candidate John Smyth, from Connor near Ballymena, was later jailed for his involvement in a 2011 sectarian attack on the home of a Polish family in Antrim. A group calling itself the South East Antrim Real UFF admitted responsibility.
The latest group to use the name have been rejected by the mainstream UDA as ‘criminal elements’, while both factions have been disowned by the quasi-umbrella group, the Loyalist Communities Council, who said they were “not loyalists”.
More than 30 families have now left Newtownards since the start of a loyalist feud, including people in a new development that was promoted as a “great place to live” less than four months ago. The majority of those who have left the area are said to be residents unconnected to the infighting who are caught up in the nightly trouble.
But the suspicious failure of the PSNI to tackle the conflict suggests that, 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement, scenes of masked and armed loyalists roaming the streets are set to continue.