Belfast playwright forced into hiding after loyalist threats

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The Independent Culture

A playwright forced into hiding after attacks by loyalist paramilitaries from his own community has condemned the Government and police for effectively supporting such violence.

Gary Mitchell, 40, whose plays at the Royal Court, London, and Abbey Theatre, Dublin, have often focused on life in loyalist Belfast, said attacks on innocents such as himself were the hidden price of the peace process.

"I feel completely let down," he said. "We have a peace process that is rewarding people of violence and punishing innocent people.

"We're not the only family that this sort of thing is happening to. A lot of people are feeling intimidated. There are atrocities every day in Northern Ireland but there seems to be a media ban on [covering] it. It's only really because it's me that it's leaked out."

Mitchell moved from his home estate of Rathcoole in Belfast to a more religiously mixed area two years ago.

His parents, Chuck and Sandra, were forced out of their home in the summer and last month his own home in Glengormley was attacked.

His wife, Alison, 37, saw the men outside. "I started screaming and got my little boy [Harry, seven] out because he was asleep in bed. I just lifted him and ran out the back door," she said.

"I heard an explosion and I threw myself on top of him because I didn't know if the house was going to blow up. I didn't know whether Gary was dead. My little boy was saying, 'Mummy, I'm going to die tonight, aren't I?' He's still in a bad way thinking he's going to die. He's on medication and having nightmares."

Mitchell's father was so distressed he had to be taken to hospital. In the days that followed, the family needed a police escort to be able to bury their grandmother who had just died.

The Mitchells are now facing an uncertain - and expensive - future, paying the mortgage on a house they cannot live in while renting another to hide in.

Mitchell believes the problem is less what he writes about than the fame his plays have given him. "I'm 99 per cent sure they have never seen anything I've written. Certain people seem to think that I'm a fellow who's got above himself."

He said that police have told him they have suspicions as to who is responsible and have suggested he sit down to "negotiate" with "representatives" of those responsible. But Mitchell furiously rejects that idea. "They're now legitimising paramilitarism. They have given authority to criminals."

Alison Mitchell said the situation was heart-breaking. "It's like everything has stopped. There's no contact with anyone. It's like being on the run. When I was growing up on the Shankill Road, another loyalist area, I never experienced anything like this, even during the Troubles. People say there's a peace process, but it's rubbish."

Mitchell said he would carry on writing. "When people attack me, my reaction is to attack them back. But I'm not going down to their level, attacking them with baseball bats and petrol bombs. I'm going to use the weapons I have which are words."

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