A man crucified by being nailed to wooden posts near Belfast was so savagely battered his father could only identify him by a tattoo, it emerged tonight.
Harry McCartan, 23, was taken to hospital semi-conscious with his hands still impaled on fencing after firefighters cut him free.
He had also been battered about the legs with a blunt instrument, possibly spiked with nails, inflicting multiple punctures to his legs.
As surgeons at the city’s Royal Victoria Hospital tonight battled to save his hands, the victim’s father, Henry, described the horror of seeing his son after the gruesome ordeal.
He said: “He was covered in muck and he was bleeding from his eyes and bleeding from his ears.
“His face was unrecognisable, I had to identify him by a tattoo on his arm.”
A hospital spokesman said Mr McCartan was in an ill but stable condition.
Paramilitary vigilantes have been blamed for the vicious beating at Dunmurry on the south west outskirts of Belfast early today.
The attack has been linked to alleged car crime in the area.
Even by the brutal standards of Northern Ireland’s so-called punishment attacks, police said this was a horrific assault.
The victim was found in the staunchly loyalist Seymour Hill estate just a few miles from his home in the nationalist Poleglass estate.
But the officer leading the hunt for the gang who inflicted the injuries said he did not believe it was a sectarian attack.
Superintendent Gerry Murray said: “I have never come across anything so barbaric.
“This is a young man who was set upon by an unknown group who brutally beat him and then nailed him to a post.”
He had been dragged into a field and beaten before he was taken down a lane and nailed, by his hands, to a wooden stile.
He was found lying slumped by the fencing, indicating he may already have been semi-conscious at the time.
A trail of blood from his body led to a red Metro car nearby.
DNA tests have been carried out on a blood-stained garment found at the vehicle, to check if it was linked with the victim.
Security sources have disclosed that the car was bought for around £90 in a pub in Portrush, County Antrim, last month by two men who did not want the tax book.
“It’s a typical runabout vehicle bought to ferry car thieves about,” said one officer.
Detectives were also examining a BMW car stolen from the Dunmurry area and later found in west Belfast with two blood stained baseball bats in it.
Mr McCartan said his son was last seen leaving his home on Friday to go to social security offices in west Belfast.
He added that he did not know why the beating had happened.
Mr Murray urged anyone who witnessed the assault to come forward.
He insisted: “People must have heard screaming and they must have heard a commotion.”