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Chilling Belfast workers face UDA death threat after contractors refuse to pay 'protection money'

Executive contractors working to demolish a block of flats in the loyalist estate were targeted in graffiti death threats

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Contractors withdrew from a number of sites on the estate as a result of the graffiti and other threats

Contractors withdrew from a number of sites on the estate as a result of the graffiti and other threats

Contractors withdrew from a number of sites on the estate as a result of the graffiti and other threats

Workers were forced to pull out of Rathcoole following UDA death threats because contractors refused to pay "protection money", we can reveal.

Executive contractors working to demolish a block of flats in the loyalist Belfast estate were targeted in graffiti death threats which appeared on Tuesday, saying those working on the flats would be "shot."

The threats were sprayed on hoarding surrounding Monkscoole House, which was undergoing preparatory work ahead of being demolished.

But what was even more sinister was the daubings of the names and address of a specific contractor who lives 40 miles away.

We can reveal the threats have enraged already under-fire South East Antrim (SEA) UDA boss Gary Fisher, as it's understood the threats were not sanctioned by him.

Instead, we can reveal SEA UDA members were behind the orchestrated intimidation plot but are working as a small unit under the control of a local taxi-driver, who we aren't identifying for legal reasons.

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Dozens of workers have downed tools in the loyalist Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey after death threats against them were sprayed on nearby hoardings. Pic: Pacemaker

Dozens of workers have downed tools in the loyalist Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey after death threats against them were sprayed on nearby hoardings. Pic: Pacemaker

Dozens of workers have downed tools in the loyalist Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey after death threats against them were sprayed on nearby hoardings. Pic: Pacemaker

"This has come from a small unit who believe Gary Fisher is too weak to do anything about it," said the source.

"They are led by a taxi driver thug who has taken it upon himself to make some money and sees the failure to pay protection money as a slight.

"He's been seen actually pulling up beside his taxi and getting out to confront workers. He's dangerous but he doesn't give a sh*t about their religion, he just wants paid.

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Dozens of workers have downed tools in the loyalist Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey after death threats against them were sprayed on nearby hoardings. Photo: Pacemaker Press

Dozens of workers have downed tools in the loyalist Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey after death threats against them were sprayed on nearby hoardings. Photo: Pacemaker Press

Dozens of workers have downed tools in the loyalist Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey after death threats against them were sprayed on nearby hoardings. Photo: Pacemaker Press

"It's embarrassing behaviour which just shows loyalists in bad light. Those people whose names and address were painted on fencing must be terrified, they'll probably have to leave their home."

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Sources in Rathcoole have told the Sunday World, sectarianism was used as a smokescreen to target the contractor based in Co Down who had been carrying out vital work on behalf of the Housing Executive.

"This is bargain-bucket intimidation over unpaid protection money," said a loyalist source in Rathcoole.

"It has nothing to do with Catholics or republican workers, that's just a smokescreen. A particular contractor refused to be bullied and wouldn't pay. That's all this is. Other Catholic workers were working away in Rathcoole without any intimidation."

Extortion has long been the UDA's 'go-to' easy revenue stream and in some loyalist areas it's accepted that cash backhanders must be made to the local paramilitary boss.

Indeed, Jackie McDonald - the UDA's veteran leader - was once convicted of extorting cash from a firm of builders 30 years ago.

Meanwhile, former west Belfast UDA boss Jim Spence was lifted for extortion in 1993. Spence has previously denied membership of the UDA and involvement in criminality.

"Building firms bidding for government contracts in loyalist areas have to factor in protection money into their bid," said a source.

"It's shocking that it still goes on and has become accepted as normal practice. The Housing Executive know it goes on but can do nothing about it.

"It's extremely hard to prove extortion for many reasons mainly because it's hard to catch someone in the act but also because of the level of threats involved nobody wants to go to court as a witness."

Meanwhile, sources laughed off claims from DUP deputy-leader Paula Bradley that she believed the UDA were not behind the threats.

The MLA for North Belfast told the BBC on Thursday night she had "been on the ground talking to community workers" and was told loyalist paramilitaries were not behind the threats.

"Who is going to do this without the agreement of the paramilitaries? It might not have been sanctioned at the very top but it's members of SE Antrim UDA behind it," our Rathcoole source said.

The DUP deputy did point out whoever is behind the threats has done the people of Rathcoole no favours as many people are in dire need of home improvements.

The taxi thug believed to be orchestrating the threats was previously affiliated with a well-known SE Antrim UDA leader in the area, who helped orchestrate anti-Protocol violence at Cloughfern roundabout, and who was dramatically and violently 'stood down' from his post earlier in the year by the UDA hierarchy after receiving a beating.

It is understood the man had been bringing unwanted negative attention to Rathcoole.

The source added: "His sidekick, who had been seen personally speaking to the contractors and personally threatening them, will now find himself in hot water with yet more media attention focused on Rathcoole, and the UDA being blamed for it. The leadership is not happy at all."

And there have been claims local UDA drug dealers are opposed to the flats coming down because the empty apartments are being used by them as drug and cash drop-offs.

Another local resident said: "Rathcoole isn't like other areas in Belfast where space for social housing is at a premium, there's plenty of space there to build new housing, and even a play park or something like that, and people are generally very positive about the prospect of new housing being put in, so it's a bit of a mystery as to why all these threats are being dished out."

A spokesperson for the Housing Executive said: "We can confirm that contractors have had to withdraw tenant's services, including health and safety work, from a number of sites in Rathcoole following threats to staff and graffiti targeting contractors in the area.

"The safety of our staff and contractors is paramount, and we utterly condemn this behaviour. We will continue to monitor the situation."

A PSNI spokesperson said: "We received a report on Tuesday morning that graffiti had been daubed on the site hoarding at some stage overnight.

"Inquiries are ongoing, and I am appealing to anyone with information to contact us on 101 quoting reference 266 of 23/11/21."

steven.moore@sundayworld.com

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