The daughter of the east Belfast man who was brutally murdered this week says the thugs responsible are still planning to kill her brother, despite the public outcry and police investigation into them.
Toni Johnston was speaking after her father Ian, 45, was stabbed 11 times in the back and had his skull fractured by a gang of five suspected UVF men only a stone’s throw from his Cluan Place home on Sunday night, while a local pastor prayed with him on the street.
“I don’t think it is over,” Toni told the News Letter. “Not only people in the family but people within the community are very frightened.
“We are also frightened for my brother because it is very much believed by us and lot of other people that he was the intended target.”
Just before the attack her brother Ryan had come home and her father had said: “They are going to come for us.”
As a result Ian walked to the top of the street, she believes, to prevent an attack on his family.
“We have been told that daddy ran at them when he saw them coming, which we are not surprised by. If danger was coming for us he would run at it.”
A former factory production manager of 11 years, Ian’s former band, the East Belfast Protestant Boys, appeared in full uniform to pay tribute with hundreds of others at a murder scene vigil on Wednesday night, along with the Gertrude Star Flute Band.
“They are the two biggest flute bands in east Belfast ... we were very pleased with that,” Toni said. “There were major attempts to isolate our family over the past 18 months but they completely failed.”
Toni’s brother Ryan has been going out with a girl from the mainly nationalist Twinbrook area for several years.
“Her family has been over a lot. They actually came to the hospital with us because daddy originally went up to Twinbrook to meet them and introduce himself.”
Rev Chris Hudson said this week that Ian was a loyalist who had embraced the path of peace. Her father’s faith had become very important recently, she said: “He said the Lord’s Prayer every morning.”
The trouble began on the night of July 1 2017 when a “known drug dealer” wrongly accused Ryan of giving him a dirty look in a bar on the Albertbridge Road.
He and two accomplices attacked Ryan and when Ian and Toni were alerted by phone and were joined by Ryan’s uncle, the gang of six, including one of their girlfriends, attacked them with chairs, bottles, glasses and punches.
“My daddy and brother and uncle offered the five men a fair fight. They were all armed with bottles, but they refused.”
Afterwards the UVF interviewed them. It later summonsed Ian to have all his arms and legs broken and Ryan to “have his head caved in”. They refused to go and a campaign of intimidation began.
“My daddy was not very well liked within the organisation [UVF] because he was very vocal against drug dealing.”
They appealed to leading loyalists, unionists and community representatives, but they were all “turned away” by the UVF leadership, which said it was “an internal investigation”.
Toni said she has long held the view of paramilitary groups that “the war is over” adding that “there is no need for them to exist”.
There are parallels, she feels, with the murder of Bobby Moffett by UVF members on the Shankill Road in 2010.
She also sees similarities with the murder of Robert McCartney from the adjacent Short Strand, who was stabbed to death by an IRA gang after a pub confrontation in 2005.
“We always said, ‘we can’t imagine what his family are going through’, and now we are going through exactly the same thing.”
Toni has had many messages of support from nationalists, both friends and strangers. “They said if I need anything I can text them for anything. It is very touching.”
The family does not want retaliation. “All we want is justice and we want to do it legally. We really want people to come forward with information, even if it is something small that they know.”