T he police hunt is on for this loyalist gang, some of whom beat a local man severely during violence on the Black Mountain this week. James McCoubrey (right) was taking part in a peaceful protest against the queen’s visit on Tuesday when he was attacked by up to 30 men carrying spades, iron bars and sticks. The Springhill father-of-four (54) was hospitalised following Tuesday evening’s assault, having suffered a broken nose, three fractured ribs and cuts and bruising to his body.
Last night (Wednesday), after he was discharged from hospital, the republican ex-prisoner relived the terrifying moment he knew his life was in danger.
“We were involved in a peaceful protest on Black Mountain,” he explained. “There was no aggravation and no sense of what was to come as we sat by the flag that was put on the mountain to protest the visit.
“There were just four of us there when it started to rain, three stayed outside while I went to sit in the tent but it was so quiet I must’ve fallen asleep.”
What happened next is as shocking as it is vicious.
“The next thing I heard was a load of cheering, I thought it was the other fellas,” James continued. “I partially opened the tent and saw figures with spades and hatchets but I didn’t have time to think anything of it. As I opened the zip fully, someone was opening it from the outside, they shouted ‘Who’s there?’ I replied ‘It’s me, Ginger [James’ nickname].’ Then I heard someone shouting ‘We’ve got a fenian!’
“As the zip went right down, I came face to face with this fella and all I remember was being hit on the side of the forehead with a weapon.
“I fell back in the tent and heard them shouting ‘Kill him!’ and ‘Burn him alive!’ I crawled to the back of the tent and ripped the pegs out of the ground so I could pull the tent up and escape. When I crawled out, I saw the whole crowd, about 30 of them, and I saw one of them coming at me with a spade. I got up and started to run because I knew the only way to get away was down the slope where the flag was. I ran in that direction but they were punching me and hitting me the whole time.
“I knew I had to stay up on my feet because if I went down, I’d be finished. One of them knocked me off the edge of a small cliff and I’m glad because if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here now.”
James said he kept pushing himself further down the mountain to escape what he believed was certain death.
“When I saw them and they were shouting ‘Kill him!’ I really thought it was over. They had sticks, spades and hatchets from what I could see and they were swinging everything at me. I could see the venom and hatred in their faces. I knew I had to get away and fast so I just kept pushing myself until I got down as far as I could go.”
At the bottom, James was met by his friends who were also chased by the same mob.
“They didn’t know I was asleep, they assumed I was running with them because they had called me,” he said. “They immediately brought me to hospital because I was in a bad way. I got x-rays and scans and was kept in overnight.
“When I finally saw myself in the mirror in hospital I just couldn’t believe I had got away, it was beyond me.”
The gang believed responsible for the attack have since posted a ‘victory’ photograph on a social networking site, a photo James has seen.
“I knew there was a right crowd of them and the photograph proves it,” he said, looking at the photo. “I don’t know what they came for, we were involved in a peaceful protest and nobody expected what happened. I’m just lucky I’m sitting here talking to you now,.”
Condemning the attack, Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan, who visited James yesterday (Wednesday), hit out at those behind the attack.
“Local republicans in the Springhill area had come up with this creative way to protest against the visit by the English queen and the protest was peaceful,” he said. “Everyone has a right to peacefully protest.”
Last night as we went to press the flag was back in place. But despite reports that a ‘call to arms’ had been issued by text to loyalists in West Belfast, the protest site was peaceful.