Justice, Belfast-style, for drug dealer

STREET vigilantes tarred and feathered an alleged drug dealer because police refused to take action against him, it was claimed yesterday.

The victim, in his thirties, was subjected to the humiliating punishment in a loyalist stronghold in south Belfast.

But despite the heavy influence of Ulster Defence Association men within the Taughmonagh estate, the paramilitary organisation's advisers insisted they were not involved.

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Frankie Gallagher, of the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG), claimed: "The UDA told the local community to go to the police about this.

"The community responded in the way it did because it had no confidence in the police."

Mr Gallagher claimed that frustration over inaction by the authorities had been building for weeks. Police were given information but failed to intervene, he said.

The degrading punishment, reminiscent of IRA-style retribution on those accused of crimes against their communities, provoked a horrified reaction.

The victim was tied to a lamppost, then masked men poured tar over him and covered him in feathers as women and children looked on.

A placard around his neck declared: "I'm a drug-dealing scumbag."

The attack, on Sunday, came amid growing pressure on the UDA to abandon all violence and give up its guns.

Margaret Ritchie, Northern Ireland's social development minister, has given the paramilitary group a 60-day deadline to deliver, or else a 1.2 million conflict transformation grant earmarked for loyalist areas will be withheld.

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According to Alban Maginness, a nationalist SDLP Assembly member, the paramilitary organisation was to blame.

He said: "It is quite clear that it was an element of the UDA which was responsible for this.

"These things are not done spontaneously by the community. It would seem to be a very provocative act."

But Mr Gallagher insisted the attack should have no bearing on the government ultimatum.

He also called for talks with the minister, warning that her stance was posing new dangers.

He said: "Margaret Ritchie's actions are destabilising the loyalist community by doing things in a way that will not work. From the UPRG's perspective, we would want to meet her as soon as possible."

No comment on his allegations was available from the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

But a spokesman for the force confirmed that officers were called out to Finwood Park, Taughmonagh, on Sunday night.

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"It's believed one man had been assaulted. However, on the arrival of police no victim was located and no-one came forward," he said.

The Alliance Party leader, David Ford, said people would find it hard to believe the denial of UDA involvement.

He said: "It calls into question the organisation's commitment to moving forward. This brutal act will have sent a shudder through the whole community."

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