The British government was tonight under pressure to declare obsolete the ceasefire of loyalist paramilitaries accused of issuing new death threats against a murder victim’s father.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan expressed astonishment that Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy has yet to give the assessment on the Ulster Volunteer Force – an organisation blamed for murdering four men in Belfast since the start of July.
The shootings have all been linked to the UVF’s vicious feud with the splinter Loyalist Volunteer Force.
But in a separate development, Raymond McCord, the grouping’s most outspoken critic, claimed they were planning to use the violent turf war to try to kill him.
Mr McCord blames the UVF for murdering his 22-year-old son, Raymond Jr, in November 1997.
The former RAF operator was battered to death and his body dumped in a north Belfast quarry.
Allegations that Special Branch blocked an investigation into the murder because it implicated security force informers are being investigated by Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan.
Alarmed by new warnings Mr McCord said he had received from police and an attempt by the Ulster Defence Association to stop a tabloid newspaper being sold, Mr Durkan claimed loyalists were trying to take away freedom of speech.
The Foyle MP said: “On the one hand, the UVF are threatening Raymond McCord - simply because he refuses to stay silent about the fact that they killed his son.
“On the other, the UDA are threatening newsagents that stock the Sunday World simply because it has published stories about the luxury lifestyles of UDA crime bosses.
“These threats cannot be lightly dismissed. After all, the UVF have already killed Raymond McCord’s son.
“And just a few years ago loyalists murdered a brave Sunday World journalist, Martin O’Hagan.
“It is demoralising for decent people that the Secretary of State has remained speechless.
“He still will not say what everybody knows: that loyalist paramilitaries have broken their ceasefires.
“Just what is it that needs to happen before the Northern Ireland Office think that the UVF has broken its ceasefire. How many more killings does it take?”
Mr Durkan issued his demand after Mr McCord revealed he had received new warnings.
“Police came out to see me on Saturday to tell me they were in receipt of information about a threat to my physical safety,” he said.
“That was the second time in a week.
“The UVF are concentrating on targeting me while this feud is going on.”
But as concern over the violence and threats deepened, the Northern Ireland Office rejected allegations that it was ignoring the situation.
A spokesman said: “We completely refute any allegation of indifference towards this murderous violence.
“The Secretary of State has made it clear from the outset that this is gangsterism masquerading as loyalism.
“Our focus is on the most effective way of bringing these murders and violent attacks to an end.
“We believe that this will be best achieved through effective policing and the PSNI deserve everyone’s support, particularly in loyalist communities at this time, to bring the perpetrators of this violence to justice.”