464 attacks in four years and now family say they want out

‘They tried to murder me and my kids’

By Francesca Ryan

A West Belfast woman claims those behind an arson attack on her home were trying to murder her and her children. Joanne O’Toole’s McDonnell Street home was attacked in the early hours of Saturday morning by local thugs who have bullied and intimidated the O’Toole family for four years.

The mother-of-six says her home has been the subject of a staggering 464 attacks since 2008. The latest, which she has branded attempted murder, is the final straw for the O’Toole family.

“I was up in bed and so were my four kids,” she told the Andersonstown News.  “The back door was unlocked and these people were able to come in and set fire to a motorbike parked in the hall. Two passers-by tried to put in the front door to wake us but they couldn’t, they went around the back but were knocked back by the flames.  They were calling and shouting to wake us up.”

It was Joanne’s 20-year-old son Michael who first tried to tackle the blaze.

“Michael was running down the stairs when he slipped and banged his head, he got five stitches and also dislocated his shoulder.  He got burnt too, he suffered 80 percent burns to his feet and is still in the burns unit of the Royal.  I fell on top of the bike and bruised my arms and legs too.”

Joanne says she is in no doubt that the attack was designed to kill her and her children.

“They tried to murder me and my kids,” she said.  “I have no doubt about that whatsoever.  They are bullies and I stand up to them, that’s why they target me, my kids and my home.  Since 2008 464 criminal events have taken place here at my house, I’ve had windows smashed, gates kicked in, my electric box set on fire.  But this is the worst so far, this was attempted murder.

“My kids who live here are aged between 11 and 20 and they are terrified, we are living in one room because they are too scared to be in their own rooms.  It’s a disgrace and I hope to get moved very shortly by the Housing Executive.”

Joanne’s plight has featured before in the Andersonstown News. In 2009 she told us how her children were spat on and verbally and physically assaulted by a gang that openly drinks, smokes drugs and sniffs glue outside her home.

The house is located next to an alleyway that has long been a magnet for anti-social elements.  The alley, which connects McDonnell Street to Albert Street, has been the subject of a campaign led by the local community who have been pressing to have the passage closed off.

Sinn Féin Councillor for the area Jim McVeigh has visited the family and says the latest incident adds weight to the campaign to close the McDonnell Street alley.

“There is absolutely no justification for what happened here,” he said.  “People, including children, could have been killed and this house could have been burnt to the ground.

“Myself and Sinn Féin MLA Fra McCann have been pushing to get this alleyway closed, most of the residents are behind it and the cops are behind it, now we need to see it happen. We would also prefer to see a sustained and focused police operation in this area to put these thugs on surveillance so people can get living in peace.”

Karol McKee of the Falls’ Residents Association has also visited the family.

“We have offered to help this family and spoken to other agencies about getting the help they need to get moved,” he said.  “In the meantime we will continue to focus on getting this alleyway blocked to try and stop the anti-social behaviour taking place here.”

 

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