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Horror injury Lorry driver blinded in brick attack may be first victim of violent loyalist anti-protocol group

Driver Fra McCaffrey was struck by a bin full of rocks thrown from dual carriageway overpass

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Belfast lorry driver Fra McCaffery 'will not regain sight in eye' after overpass attack

Belfast lorry driver Fra McCaffery 'will not regain sight in eye' after overpass attack

Belfast lorry driver Fra McCaffery 'will not regain sight in eye' after overpass attack

Blinded lorry driver Fra McCaffrey may be the first victim of a renegade loyalist group who are ready to go to war over the Irish Sea border.

The west Belfast lorry driver was left with serious head injuries as well as being blinded in one eye after a group dumped a bin load of rocks over an overpass in Larne – close to the port although Fra had not come through the new so-called ‘border’.

Police were stumped at the shocking and bizarre attack on the 56-year-old which happened three weeks ago and appeared to have no clear motive.

But we can reveal detectives are now investigating whether the incident was part of new loyalist campaign against any kind of border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

They believe the random attack was carefully planned, with a car needed to transport the brown bin full of large rocks to the Ballyboley overpass, which is in the countryside and without cameras.

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Fra McCaffery's  lorry cab after the attack.

Fra McCaffery's lorry cab after the attack.

Fra McCaffery's lorry cab after the attack.

Sources have claimed the same group, who some say is called Loyalist Resistance, were also behind an arson attack on the multicultural centre in south Belfast a week later.

Tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused to the centre which police say was targeted in a “hate crime”.

Last July another shadowy loyalist group, calling themselves Orange Vanguard, warned they would target any physical Irish Sea border posts when they were first suggested.

Meanwhile we understand frustrated loyalist paramilitaries from various terror groups are starting to organise with one loyalist telling the Sunday World: “There’s deep anger and frustration at the leaders of loyalism who appear to be doing nothing while Northern Ireland is separated from the UK.

“Pressure is going to be put on the commanders of the UDA and the UVF to get involved in some form of action – otherwise what’s the point of calling themselves loyalists?

“There is a small minority who are ready to go back to war over this, that’s the truth.”

We can also reveal sinister threats were made through this newspaper against any EU personnel staffing border posts.

Using a codeword the group, who would only say they were a ‘loyalist resistance’ grouping, also warned local politicians “implementing partition” were “legitimate targets”.

This week a senior PSNI officer said the force was “monitoring” loyalist discontent around the issue while North Antrim MP Ian Paisley suggested the officer was downplaying the threat of violence adding: “Some sections of the community are starting to sense they are sitting on a powder keg.”

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Graffiti appeared in Belfast recently

Graffiti appeared in Belfast recently

Graffiti appeared in Belfast recently

And on Thursday night Justice Minister Naomi Long described a hoax bomb alert at her constituency office as “nonsense” adding the police already have enough to deal with.

On Thursday morning an anonymous caller to the Sunday World made a direct threat to EU personnel and anyone else involved in what they describe as “implementing partition from the rest of the UK”.

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The office of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford on sandy road was dubbed with graffiti

The office of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford on sandy road was dubbed with graffiti

The office of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford on sandy road was dubbed with graffiti

The man reading the prepared statement, which we immediately reported to the PSNI, used what he claims were two old recognised paramilitary codewords before giving a new one.

The statement read: “All EU staff and personnel staffing border posts from whatever persuasion are now considered legitimate targets.

“Border staff are now considered agents of a unity project and therefore the onus is now on those personnel to desist from their actions.

“Since the present course impacts on the wellbeing of the wider unionist, loyalist tradition it’s only fair to extend this warning to immediate family members of all who implement partition from the mainland UK.”

It’s not clear if these are empty threats but they are symptomatic of a swell of discontent over the Irish Sea border caused by Brexit which took effect at the start of the month.

What is not in doubt is that loyalists are recruiting so-called ‘foot soldiers’ for some form of protest though few believe there’s the stomach to return to the violence witnessed during the Troubles.

And all this was already happening before it was announced on Friday that under the protocol, the MoD must now give 15 days’ notice and fill out customs declaration forms before the Army moves equipment from GB to NI.

The symbolism of that will not be lost on even the most liberal of unionists and combined with the EU’s calamitous invoking, however brifely, of Article 16, the fans have been flamed for loyalists.

The pandemic is believed to have put the brakes on a wider protest campaign but loyalists say they won’t be held back indefinitely.

“If you thought the flag protests were bad wait until this thing starts to snowball,” one loyalist told the Sunday World last night.

“There’s massive pressure for the UVF and the UDA leadership to get involved and lead the way because so many loyalists are angry at what they see as partition from the UK.

“If the mainstream loyalist groups sit back and do nothing then others will step in and do the job. It’s time to stop all the drug dealing and time for the leaders of the UVF and UDA to remember what loyalists are supposed to be about.”

If lorry driver Fra McCaffrey was a victim of anti-border loyalists it’s a disturbing development.

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Fra McCaffrey was left blind in one eye after his lorry was attacked

Fra McCaffrey was left blind in one eye after his lorry was attacked

Fra McCaffrey was left blind in one eye after his lorry was attacked

“That’s what I’ve been told,” said a loyalist. “I was told the group Loyalist Resistance definitely attacked the multicultural centre in Donegall Pass but also that loyalists from the UDA in Larne orchestrated the attack on the lorry driver.

“I don’t think they intended to hurt anyone. I was told they wanted to cause damage to a lorry and then claim it but it went wrong and the driver was very badly hurt.

“The police haven’t arrested anyone. It was too organised to be bored teenagers and I’m told it was loyalists behind it. They picked a spot on a bridge that wasn’t covered by cameras.

“If it was anti-border loyalists it was completely botched operation as Mr McCaffrey hadn’t come through any border. Instead he was leaving off a large delivery of mail.”

Giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan told MPs this week that the health pandemic may be “moderating people’s behaviour in terms of the desire to protest”.

“Were we not in this current environment we would probably see a more visible outworking of that on the streets,” he said.

This week graffiti was sprayed on the shutters of South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford’s constituency office in Sandy Row and a threat to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was painted on a south Belfast wall.

It came as unionists were urged to unite and send letters to their MLAs making them aware of their disgust and plan to withdraw future electoral support.

The UPRG, aligned to the UDA, shared a post urging unionist politicians to withdraw support for the Good Friday Agreement.

It said: “Unionism now has a very stark choice – make a stand or be routed, derailed and defeated.”

  • steven.moore@sundayworld.com

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