Exposed | 

UDA forced Larne bonfire builders to rival ‘record-breaking’ pyre or face beating

We can reveal that tragic John Steele died when he was accidentally hit on the head by a flying pallet, and it is understood the PSNI will now probe this
John Steele who died after falling from a bonfire in Larne.

John Steele who died after falling from a bonfire in Larne.

The Antiville bonfire in Larne where Mr Steele lost his life

The Antiville bonfire in Larne where Mr Steele lost his life

A crane knocks down the bonfire after John Steele’s death

A crane knocks down the bonfire after John Steele’s death

John's family break down as his coffin leaves his home on Thursday

John's family break down as his coffin leaves his home on Thursday

John Steele’s coffin passes the site of the bonfire

John Steele’s coffin passes the site of the bonfire

Hugh JordanSunday World

Bonfire builders where tragic dad John Steele fell to his death were forced to build the towering inferno or face a paramilitary beating, the Sunday World has learned.

Sources in the Larne estate of Antiville are furious and have said they’ll never forgive UDA enforcers who demanded a pyre to rival the record-breaking bonfire at nearby Craigyhill.

And we can reveal that tragic John Steele died when he was accidentally hit on the head by a flying pallet.

We have been told the pallet struck the Larne man with such force it caused him to lose his footing before falling 50ft to his death.

The Antiville bonfire in Larne where Mr Steele lost his life

The Antiville bonfire in Larne where Mr Steele lost his life

“Everyone involved with the Antiville bonfire are totally devastated about John, but the truth has to come out. He was hit on the head by a pallet,” a resident told the Sunday World.

But a source close to tragic John told us that the community is “furious” about how men were forced to build the bonfire higher and higher under threats of beatings – and that no harnesses were provided despite promises.

The source also said that bonfire builders were “in bits” at the funeral and would need counselling to get over the traumatic death plunge. “They can’t get that thud out of their minds,” the source said.

Today we also reveal details of a special investigation into the inner workings of the South East Antrim UDA in the Larne area and its connection to the bonfires at Craigyhill and Antiville.

John's family break down as his coffin leaves his home on Thursday

John's family break down as his coffin leaves his home on Thursday

And we expose how the loyalist terror group likes to keep vice-like control over bonfire building and illegal drug dealing on housing estates in Larne and elsewhere.

But we also listened while the hard-pressed communities of Antiville and Craigyhill told us how they have had enough of living under the jackboot of the paramilitaries.

And many of them now believe John Steele’s tragic death may be a turning point on the road to change.

Until now exact details of John Steele’s final seconds of life has remained a closely guarded secret.

The full facts are known only to a handful of people on the Antiville and Craigyhill estates.

“John just didn’t fall off the bonfire, he was hit by a pallet. It knocked him off. I could be in serious trouble for telling you, but people need to know what happened here,” one man said.

John Steele’s coffin passes the site of the bonfire

John Steele’s coffin passes the site of the bonfire

It is understood that investigating officers from the PSNI will now probe this as a new line of inquiry, after receiving full details from the Sunday World.

Around 9.35 last Saturday night, father-of-two John fell to his death from a bonfire he helped build.

The tragedy happened on a green area on Larne’s Antiville estate, where John Steele had lived all of his life.

Despite boasts that builders on the nearby Craigyhill wore safety harnesses, none was made available to the men and boys building the bonfire at Antiville.

“This was an accident waiting to happen. Building the biggest bonfire in the world at Craigyhill was all about ego. But it was also about the control of the next generation,” a source said.

“It was a recipe for disaster and the disaster happened at half past nine last Saturday night when John Steele fell to his death.

“John shouldn’t have been anywhere near that bonfire. He didn’t want to be there, but he wasn’t given a choice,” another local resident said.

“Don’t get me wrong, he loved building bonfires. All the lads here are bonfire schooled. But they wanted to go wider, not taller. The pressure they were under was unreal.”

Friends and neighbours battled to save the 36-year-old until medical experts and paramedics arrived. And they all fought frantically for around 50 minutes, but to no avail.

John died at the scene which within sight of his parents Arty and Jackie’s home on the Lindara estate. The property overlooks the Antiville bonfire site.

Antiville and Craigyhill communities are stunned at the sudden death of the popular young man who was dedicated to his two young children.

The bonfire was pulled down by the local council shortly after it was approached by locals.

But in the wake of John’s death, the SEA UDA decided the burning of the bonfire at Craigyhill – a few hundred yards away – would go ahead.

A Liverpool-mad soccer fan, John was well known and popular on the Antiville and Craigyhill estates, where he had previously worked as window cleaner.

His funeral on Thursday afternoon was an emotional affair with many people weeping as John’s coffin was carried from his parents’ home to the strains of the Merseyside anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Local UDA leaders attended John Steele funeral, but they remained a considerable distance away from the proceedings.

“They were embarrassed. But come the weekend, it will be back to business,” one woman told us.

“At the vigil you had grown men crying – they were broken-hearted. Those lads will need counselling – they can’t get the sound of the thud out of their minds.”

A crane knocks down the bonfire after John Steele’s death

A crane knocks down the bonfire after John Steele’s death

John’s mum Jackie – who like her son was also born and raised in Antiville – was too upset to stand outside her terrace home to hear local Presbyterian minister Reverend Ben Preston address the crowd.

But her husband Arty stood close to his only son’s coffin as the minister told mourners: “John’s death has touched so many. This community in Antiville and Craigyhill are so touched by what has happened.

“Watch John’s death be a catalyst for good, not hatred,” he added.

Deputy Mayor for Mid and East Antrim Council Beth Adgey said: “John Steele should never have been anywhere near a bonfire.”

The Sunday Worlddiscovered the red hand of South East Antrim UDA – an illegal drug dealing organisation – is he hidden hand behind bonfire building in Larne and elsewhere.

The breakaway loyalist faction boasts thousands of members in Rathcoole, Carrickfergus and Larne. Many of these members want out but can’t unless they come up with thousands of pounds.

John Steele had been building bonfires in Antiville since he was a boy and he still worked on the bonfires after he became a dad of two.

But last year he suddenly fell seriously ill and was rushed to hospital.

John remained in intensive care for two weeks, but eventually returned home to Antiville.

Weeks later, while still recovering, UDA men demanded John take his turn building the bonfire.

This year it was exactly the same. Many locals maintain it was obvious John still had some way to go to reach full recovery. But the UDA forced him to into bonfire building duties.

“John should never have been anywhere near a bonfire. He still wasn’t well enough. He didn’t want to be there, but they forced him,” a local said.

And John knew what lay in store if he had refused. Several local men from the area were beaten up for failing to attend the bonfire.

“A number of fellas in Antiville were ‘smashed’ and the news spread like wildfire. Boys were afraid to refuse,” a local mum told us.

We were told the UDA forced every man under its control to pay £25 per head for pallets, and a further £20 for the crane when the bonfire got higher.

hjordan.media@btinternet.com


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