A unionist paramilitary gang is threatening to kill a senior district judge over his refusal to grant bail to gang members caught up in a long-running feud.
Graffiti with his name and crosshairs was painted on the wall of a courthouse in Newtownards, County Down, where members of the so-called ‘Real UFF,’ a breakaway faction of the UDA, faced charges.
The threat against Judge Mark Hamill came ahead of a number of cases that were scheduled to be heard by him at the courthouse on Wednesday morning.
Judge Hamill said the incident was “an existential threat to the rule of law in Newtownards” and added: “If anyone thinks that by damaging the court and behaving in this way that the court will be intimidated, I can say this court is not going to be intimidated.”
Local independent councillor Stephen Irvine strongly criticised the threat and hit out at the PSNI for ignoring the violence and threats of violence by rival unionist paramilitary groups in the area.
“I completely deplore and condemn the graffiti placed on the court by the drug-dealing gang who call themselves the ‘Real UFF’,” he said.
“This attack comes following the gang threatening to ‘shoot and bomb’ women and kids, threatening community workers and elected representatives, orchestrating a shooting incident against themselves in a cynical PR stunt, engaging in a show of strength in flagrant breach of the Terrorism Act, and now threatening our district judge.
“This latest incident is an orchestrated effort by the drug-dealing gang to inflame the court to negatively interfere with bail applications to be made by some of those on remand for peacefully protesting against the drugs gang.
“The PSNI has facilitated and protected this drugs gang for long enough. When will they finally deal with these criminals and restore law and order?
“They attack property facing the police station, brazenly threaten women and children, parade around in balaclavas and ‘Real UFF’ coats and now believe they can threaten judges without consequence.
“The local loyalist community stand four square behind Judge Hamill and repeat the call for the PSNI to deal with this drug-dealing gang of parasites.”
A dozen loyalists appeared in court charged in connection with removing the murals of a paramilitary rival gang, the South East Antrim UDA, from Weavers Grange estate. They were accused of taking part in a “concerted show of strength” when a crowd of up to 60 men, many of them masked, tore murals and signs from the walls of three properties on 6 April.
Earlier this month, a ‘peace protest’ in the town, backed by prominent loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, was held to oppose those members of the ‘Real UFF’ who remain in the estate.
Violence has continued in the area since the feud erupted in March. In the latest incident, children escaped injury when a property in Newtownards was raked with gunfire in the early hours last Thursday morning.
CCTV footage shows a hooded figure dressed in dark clothing approaching the property and firing shots from what appears to be a shotgun or rifle.
The intended target blamed the “sick and disgusting” attack on the east Belfast UVF, who he said are aligned with the South East Antrim UDA. He told reporters that he was given “assurances” that his family would be safe if he left the property.
“My four children were inside, my eldest daughter is 23 but has severe learning difficulties with the mental age of a teenager,” the man said.
“She was sitting downstairs playing a computer game when a bullet came through the front door. My 15-year-old son has ADHD and is bipolar. He doesn’t sleep that well and had just turned off the TV when a bullet came through the living room window. He had cuts on his feet from the smashed glass”.
He said that a deal with the east Belfast UVF was struck, which meant that, as long as he stayed away from the estate, his family would have nothing to fear.
“These are the same people who were backing a protest for peace the other week, warning that if a child is harmed they will take action. Now they are shooting at children,” he said.