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Witnesses in major cases flee the north

(Irish News)

Witnesses in two major loyalist extortion cases have been forced to flee Northern Ireland and assume new identities.

Among them are Witnesses 'A' and 'B' who are due to give evidence against former UDA 'brigadier' Andre Shoukri next month.

Shoukri is expected to plead guilty to money laundering and extortion charges in order to avoid details of his chronic gambling habit being revealed in court.

If this is the case the witnesses, a bar manager and her husband, will be spared the ordeal of giving evidence to the court.

However, the pair are expected to remain at a secret address in England where they have entered the witness protection scheme.

Shoukri and co-accused John 'Bonzer' Borland were arrested in November 2005 after an undercover police operation caught them attempting to extort thousands of pounds from the manager of Bonaparte's Bar in north Belfast.

Shoukri had also demanded that she provide him with employment payrolls so that he could falsely obtain a mortgage for a house.

In March 2005 Shoukri and Borland lured Witness A's husband to a meeting in north Belfast during which a gun was put to his head.

In fear of their lives, the couple contacted police, who set up the sting operation to catch the loyalists making threats on secret recordings.

After Shoukri and Borland were arrested the manager and her husband were placed in protective custody in England. They had to be moved last summer after their safety was compromised.

Detective Superintendent Essie Adair said that when witnesses come forward they are given the option of going into the protection scheme.

"There are people coming forward and whenever that happens we have a 100% conviction rate," he said.

"I've been in this job since 2001 and since then there has been no retaliatory action.

"In terms of extortion you are looking at just two cases where witnesses have left the jurisdiction and joined the witness protection scheme.

"Obviously we have the mechanisms in place to allow people to go into witness protection if they wish.

"But it can be an exceptionally difficult step for people to take and their wishes will be respected.

"We have had a job where the victim has said, 'no, I think that will put me under too much scrutiny' and we've pulled back and changed our tactics."

May 15, 2007

This article appeared first in the May 14, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News