Neighbours relive their horrific ordeal

Gang stinking of booze screamed ‘We’re ONH’

By Francesca Ryan

The victims of a shockingly violent double assault and robbery in a West Belfast block of flats have told the Andersonstown News of the terror they experienced during the dead-of-night attack.In trembling voices, the local man and woman relived the horrific attack carried out by three masked and armed men claiming to be from Lenadoon Óglaigh na hÉireann – a claim that has been rejected by dissident republicans.

Elizabeth O’Connor and Martin Burke-Corcoran, who until Sunday lived in neighbouring flats in Corrib Avenue, are still bruised and traumatised after the crazed raid on their homes which they believe was carried out by men high on drink and drugs.

The attack is believed to have been a  case of mistaken identity but that didn’t stop the assailants, armed with a range of fearsome weapons including a nine-inch blade and a shotgun, robbing the neighbours and leaving them both battered, distressed and requiring hospital treatment.

The brave local people gave graphic accounts of their night of terror at the hands of the the three thugs.

“I live with my daughter and my father but was home alone on Saturday night because I had been unwell and my daughter was with my mother,” said Elizabeth.  “At around 2am in the early hours of Sunday, I heard rapping at the door of my flat and someone fiddling with the letterbox. As I walked towards the door, it burst open and I saw three men in balaclavas, black gloves and dark clothing.  One of them immediately gripped me by the throat and started screaming ‘Where are the drugs?’  The others were shouting that they were from Óglaigh na hÉireann in Lenadoon as we stumbled towards the living room and I was pinned on to the sofa.

“They were squealing into my face that I was selling heroin to kids on the street and asking me where the money was. I was shouting back I don’t take drugs or deal drugs and I told them to look for what they were after but they wouldn’t find it.”

Two of the men went off to ransack Elizabeth’s upstairs while the third kept her hostage in the living room.

“He kept the knife to my throat, he told me not to get out of hand because there was a shotgun on the premises.  He then got up and was shouting about a laptop.  I don’t own a laptop. He was squealing ‘You’re a druggie, f***ing sit there you bitch’ the whole time.  He then saw my handbag and emptied it, he lifted my car keys and took my bank card from my purse, he put the knife to my throat again and said my account was going to be emptied while he was there so I better give him the right PIN number, which I did. He asked did I want my keys back, I said yes and he asked what I would do for him to get them back. I told him to keep the keys, then he said my car would be used the following morning for a bomb.”

Elizabeth says the frenzied nature of the raid led her to believe the attackers were drunk or on drugs.

“They were screaming and squealing the whole time. One was shouting ‘I may be the youngest but I’m the boss.’ It was terrifying.  If my baby was there, I would be dead now because I would have fought them to stop them going up into her room. They were behaving like they were on drugs and the smell of drink was powerful. They were totally manic, they were all running, but it’s only a small space. They were acting hyper and unstable and stank of drink, it frightened the life out of me.”

The gang, who left with keys, a bankcard and a mobile phone, warned the 38-year-old mum to keep silent about the incident, but they hadn’t yet finished their rampage in the complex.  Elizabeth’s neighbour Martin had heard the commotion and came out of his flat to investigate. “I heard noises then I heard Elizabeth scream,” he explained.  “I ran to my door and looked through the peephole to see a man with a balaclava and two other men following him into her flat. I ran out but her door was slammed on me. I heard her screaming and there was no way I was moving from her door, I used to box so I thought I could try and take them on.”

Martin was brought to the brink of tears as he recalled the terrifying details of what happened next.

“When the door opened, I immediately felt a knife at my throat and I was forced into my flat. They were screaming ‘Where are the drugs?’ and then one hit me with a monkey wrench on the forehead and another had his foot on the back of my neck, squashing my face into the floor. I was crying and pleading with them, telling them I don’t do drugs. I offered my wallet and they took the £30 that was in it, they also took my phone with all my photos of my child on it. They took a new mobile I had sitting wrapped for my daughter’s birthday and they took my tablets.

“Just before they left, one stamped on my face and another one of them pressed a shotgun into the side of my mouth and told me they would be back to blow my head off if I told anyone about what happened.”

And Martin agreed with Elizabeth that the gang were high on drugs and drink – or both.

“They were so erratic and the smell of alcohol off them was overpowering. One of them was frothing at the mouth too like he was on drugs or something.  It really scared me, they were so disorganised that I thought they might shoot me.”

The pair, who are urgently seeking new accommodation with the Housing Executive, used a landline to contact the local Safer Neighbourhood Project and the PSNI.

Martin Black of the Upper Andersonstown Safer Neighbourhood Project said the incident appears to have been a case of mistaken identity and appealed for to people to be vigilant.

Republican Network for Unity, meanwhile, have firmly denied Óglaigh na hÉireann involvement in the attack.

“As far as we are concerned,” RNU spokesman Ciarán Cunningham told the Andersonstown News, “republicans have spoken to the victims and spoken with local people about the attack.  Those republicans are one hundred per cent confident that ONH had no involvement in the incident and are equally confident that it was local thugs and criminals from the area who carried out this attack.”

As the PSNI at Grosvenor Road continue to investigate the incident, Lenadoon Sinn Féin Councillor Gerard O’Neill hit out at the thugs.

“This was an attack on two decent people, two good neighbours,” he said. “The people who carried this out are only interested in lining their own pockets.  They were drunk, possibly on drugs, and armed. That’s a danger to the entire community because they are capable of God knows what.”

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