Dissident shooting victim speaks out to protect family

December 15, 2014

A south Armagh man says he has been forced to speak out about a sustained campaign of intimidation being waged against him, allegedly by dissident Republicans, as the threats have now escalated to include his children.

Speaking to The Examiner, Michael Bellew (48), from Cullyhanna, said going public with his story is a “last resort” for him after two of his children were threatened in recent separate incidents.

Michael Bellew was seriously wounded when a gang of men burst into his home in November of last year, and viciously assaulted him with baseball bats and sledgehammers, before shooting him in both legs.  His injuries required extensive surgery, with metal rods inserted in each leg, forcing him to use a wheelchair for several months afterwards.

Dissident republican group Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH) later admitted responsibility for the brutal attack, claiming it was “a measured response” against the married father-of-three.

In a statement the group accused Mr Bellew of “placing the lives of volunteers at risk”, as well as risking the capture of equipment belonging to the organization.

“The IRA will in a calm and thought-out way, at a time of its own choosing, take whatever appropriate action is needed,” the statement said.

Bellew strenuously denied the accusations, claiming he is “totally non-political”.

Since then, Mr Bellew claims he and his family have been subjected to an on-going and sustained campaign of intimidation and threat and says he has chosen to speak publicly about his ordeal as he fears for the safety of his children.

He revealed that his young daughter was verbally threatened while on a night out and a shotgun was pointed at his teenage son, also named Michael, in separate incidents recently.   Furthermore, Michael junior was also intimidated as he drove towards his home one night when a man, his face obscured to conceal his identity, drove his jeep and trailer across his path and continued to obstruct him for around five minutes before driving off.

These incidents against his children represent a sinister development and have prompted Mr Bellew to make an emotional plea to be “left alone to live in peace”.

According to the Cullyhanna farmer, the onslaught of intimidation began after houses in the area close to his home were raided in 2012 amid claims of electricity fraud.  Police subsequently discovered an illegal diesel laundering plant in the area and Mr Bellew says, a “smear campaign” began against himself and another local man.

He claims graffiti was daubed on the roads near his home branding him an informer and that he was attacked by a man wielding a pickaxe shortly afterwards.

On 5th November 2013, he was beaten and shot when four masked men burst into the kitchen of his farmhouse where he sat with his wife and daughter.

Mr Bellew said he hoped the intimidation would cease after the shooting but he says it has continued and he is constantly threatened as he drives to and from his home.

The concerned father is fearful for his children as the campaign appears to have moved to them: “All I want is for my family to live in peace but I don’t know what else to do. Now that my son is being threatened and harassed to such an extent, publicly speaking out about this is a last resort for me. We just want to be left alone,” he said.

Commenting on the situation, SDLP MLA, Dominic Bradley condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the ongoing intimidation.  Branding this type of behaviour “totally unacceptable”, he said, “it should by now have become a thing of the past.  It can never be justified and those  responsible must desist from it immediately,” he said.

Echoing Mr Bradley’s views, SDLP councillor Geraldine Donnelly said, “It is totally unacceptable that this family is still being subject to this level of cruel intimidation. Those involved must stop and allow this family to pursue their lives without any interference whatsoever.”

Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy termed those responsible “criminals masquerading as Republicans”, and called on them to cease their campaign of “intimidation, threats and assaults” against Mr Bellew and his family.

Describing Mr Bellew as a “respected and upstanding member of the community,” Mr Murphy said people are outraged and most view the situation as “an attack on the entire community”.

“These criminal gangs need to leave the stage and people be allowed to build a future for themselves and their families free from threat,” he said.  “People need to be able to get on with their lives without the shadow of these gangs hanging over them, who are besmirching the honourable title of republican.”

He added that Sinn Féin would be meeting with the PSNI to discuss the issue.

In response, Mr Bellew extended his thanks to Dominic Bradley, Councillors Terry Hearty and Geraldine Donnelly and former Sinn Fein councillor, Colman Burns, for visiting him following last year’s attack and for the support he has received from them.