A new documentary has exposed the brutal Irish neighbourhood groups that are taking the law into their own hands and carrying out extreme attacks on anti-social people in the community, all due to a wide distrust of the police.
The groups carry out so called ‘punishment attacks’ in Belfast against people – some as young as 16 years old – who have been accused of anti-social behaviour, with some victims shot in the knee in an act called knee-capping, while others are shot in the ankles and elbows.
Knee-cappings were a punishment first made popular during The Troubles, a 30-year period of political unrest between the Protestants and Catholics in Belfast, which saw militarised groups attempt to take the law into their own hands by targeting people they believed were a danger to the community.
A peace agreement was finally signed on Good Friday 20 years ago, attempting to put an end to the unrest. However, new documentary Shot by my Neighbour – airing on the UK’s BBC – has revealed some groups are still continuing the horrific attacks in residential areas of the city.
Most of the alleged offenders are given an appointment via a text from an anonymous number, requesting they meet the group to discuss their alleged crimes – before many are shot in the kneecaps, ankles and elbows in what is known there as a six-pack. In order to ensure they turn up, they’re threatened with worse violence if they don’t appear.
The show shared the tragic story of Michael McGibbon, a 33-year-old taxi driver, who kissed his wife Joanne goodbye on Friday evening in April 2016 after accepting an invitation to meet the men and be shot, the BBC reports. While his wife begged him not to go, he felt he had no choice.
“I remember thinking, ‘I need a hospital bag, I need to pack stuff for him’,” Joanne recalled. “I packed his pyjamas as I knew for definite he’d be in hospital for the night. I remember saying to him that I loved him, and hugging him, and saying, ‘I can’t let you do this’. But he said, ‘You have to let me do this’.”
She later discovered him wounded in the street, before he sadly died from his injuries. Police described him as a “man with no criminal record, no apparent criminal connections or associations” at the time.
Meanwhile, the documentary also aired a clip of a woman ringing emergency services pleading for an ambulance for her partner. She is heard telling the operator he’s been shot in both ankles, both knees and his head.
Elsewhere, one victim, Rab, who was 28 at the time of his attack, appeared on camera in a wheelchair after being hit in the head with a hammer and shot in the legs and ankles by masked men, all as revenge for a fight he previously had.
“We were ordering takeout food and as I was cutting it up for the child I turned round, one of the masked men was just standing there in the kitchen. They just said ‘just cripple the b*****d’.”
One of the masked men stood guard over his partner Natasha and two of her children, aged four and six, while Rab was attacked. Sadly, her 10-year-old son saw it all.
Rab said: “He heard the first shot going off and came down and peeked his head in the kitchen and sat and watched them shoot me the rest. The child’s been terrified by it, you don’t blame him. No 10-year-old should see that.”
Recalling the horrifying moment, Natasha explained she was trying to calm both her kids down as they “squealed”. She said: “Every time they heard a bullet, they were getting more and more distraught.”
Investigative journalist Stacey Dooley arranged to meet with one of the main Republican groups responsible for the attacks in the BBC Three documentary. She was forced to sit in the back of a windowless van to meet them (so she wouldn’t know their location) and took a small camera crew along to film the meeting.
When asked if any part of him felt guilt, one of the men in the group said on camera: “You don’t feel guilt or remorse, it’s social action. We have to stand up for the weaker members of the community. We wanna help people, and if you have to shoot somebody to help people then, you know, we’ll do it.
“It’s a calculated decision that this person deserves it.”
As Stacey pointed out that they’re devastating lives by actually crippling people for life, the man responded: “We know we’re hurting people seriously, but we’re hurting a parasite, you know? We don’t live in a normal society, so this is how we deal with stuff.
“Everybody here, we’re just normal men. We could be living next door to your grandmother and that’s why people fear us so much. Because we just come out of the shadows, do our deed, and go home.”
There is no phone number or place to meet the groups, with people in the community instead knowing members through word of mouth – with almost every street in some areas housing one of them. The BBC reports neighbours then tell the members directly about anti-social behaviour they have witnessed.
While the number of attacks has dropped so far in 2018, they shot up by 60 per cent between 2013 and 2017.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has since vowed to tackle the group and has set up a department called the Paramilitary Crime Task Force. Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton insisted it has now become more than a warped form of justice, adding: “They are organised crime groups now. They are exploiting people within their community.”