DISTRICT JUDGE WILL NOT BE INTIMIDATED

THUGS involved in a drugs turf war have publicly threatened the judge who has been presiding over the case.

In what the town’s MP describes as ‘a very dark day in the life of Newtownards’, the perpetrators daubed the name of District Judge Mark Hamill along with crosshairs on the front of the town’s Regent Street courthouse.

Windows were also smashed in the overnight attack on the town’s seat of justice, which took place in very early hours of Wednesday morning.

But the judge refused to be cowed, telling yesterday’s court sitting: “If anybody thinks by attacking the court and spraying the walls [they would intimidate], they are wasting their paint.

“This court is not going to be intimidated.”

Judge Hamill has repeatedly denied bail to men accused of being involved in the highly volatile feud, which has so far seen petrol and pipe bomb attacks, a shooting and a litany of damage and intimidation.

The judge has explicitly stated that anyone who appears in his court accused of being connected to the turf war will be ‘whistling in the wind for bail’ while what he describes as the ‘gangster feud’ drags on.

The threat was daubed on the court just hours before several men were due to appear facing charges of being involved in a feud-related incident in April.

That incident saw a large gang invade the Weavers Grange estate in Newtownards, where they ripped down loyalist paramilitary flags and banners relating to the other side of the feud.

Judge Hamill has refused bail in all cases connected to the Weavers Grange raid, warning that everyone linked to the turf war will be held in custody until their trials.

He has said that he’s ‘trying to keep the peace in Newtownards’ by denying bail in all feud cases.

Strangford MP Jim Shannon condemned yesterday’s incident, describing it as ‘an attack on the judiciary, on the court system, on the law, on the very essence of what makes us British’.

He’s now planning to write to Judge Hamill, reinforcing that the people of Newtownards stand behind him and against the threat from perpetrators.

“This is a disgraceful message that is utterly refuted by 99.9% of our community, who oppose absolutely this clear attack on the rule of law,” said Mr Shannon.

“I have been impressed by Judge Hamill’s firm and fair approach, and I know that he will not allow this to intimidate him.

“This has been a very, very dark day in the life and affairs of Newtownards; this is people in a violent feud stating to the town, in public, that they expect the judiciary to bow to them. The people will absolutely refute that.

“The duty and responsibility of our community has never been clearer; we must work with the PSNI to see these thugs facing justice inside the court, instead of spray-painting the outside of it and smashing windows in the dead of night like cowards.”

Independent unionist councillor Steven Irvine claimedthe group responsible for the graffiti was a drug gang calling itself the ‘Real UFF’.

He went on to allege, however, that it was an attempt to ‘inflame the court’ in order to ‘negatively interfere’ with yesterday’s feud-related bail applications.

Mr Irvine claimed that some of the bail applications were from people ‘on remand for peacefully protesting against’ the Real UFF.

According to him, the gang had attacked the court in an attempt to make the judge even less likely to let the accused men out on bail.

Stated Mr Irvine: “[Gang members] attack property facing the police station, brazenly threaten women and children, parade around in balaclavas and Real UFF coats, and now believe they can threaten judges without consequence.

“The local loyalist community stands four-square behind Judge Hamill, and repeats the call for the PSNI to deal with this drug dealing gang of parasites.”

Speaking in court on Wednesday, Judge Hamill reinforced that everyone facing feud-related charges will be held in custody.

“I don’t care which side of this gangster drug feud attacked the court,” he said. “They are all lumped together as far as I am concerned.”