Churchman dies after paramilitary beating

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A Belfast Presbyterian minister has died six weeks after suffering a savage "punishment beating" at the hands of loyalist paramilitants in the city.

The Rev David Templeton was attacked by three men armed with cudgels who broke into his north Belfast home on 7 February. He suffered two broken legs, a suspected fractured skull and puncture wounds in the incident. He had appeared to be recovering but died in hospital on Monday night, possibly of a heart attack.

Although he had suffered previous health problems - he was the longest surviving kidney transplant recipient in Northern Ireland - police said his death was a direct result of his injuries.

The motivation for the beating appears to relate to an incident 18 months ago when Mr Templeton was searched by customs officers as he returned from Amsterdam and was found to be carrying a pornographic homosexual videotape. No charges were brought but he resigned as minister of Greyabbey Presbyterian church in Co Down and moved to north Belfast where he lived quietly.

He had a distinguished academic record. Originally a civil servant, he gained an Open University degree and masters degrees from Queen's University, Belfast and Princeton theological seminary in New Jersey.

His presumed homosexuality would have represented sufficient reason for a loyalist attack. His was the latest of perhaps half a dozen punishment attacks which were apparently designed to injure but which over the years have proved lethal. Such attacks have become almost a matter of routine in Belfast and elsewhere, though they are rarely fatal. According to the RUC, there have been so far this year 25 loyalist beatings, 14 loyalist shootings, and 33 republican beatings and one shooting. Last year, loyalists carried out 150 beatings and shootings while republicans perpetrated 170 beatings - a rate of almost one assault per day.

Meanwhile, Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Secretary, has been criticised for announcing that the inquiry into the IRA escape attempt from the Maze prison is to be confined to the Northern Ireland Office.

Up to 95 hardline IRA inmates could have escaped had their tunnel not been detected some 90 feet from the prison's perimeter fence. The inquiry is to be headed by a senior NIO official, John Steele, who was previously in charge of prisons.

Finlay Spratt, of the Prison Officers' Association, dismissed the inquiry as a whitewash, saying that while he did not question Mr Steele's integrity a full independent inquiry was needed. He added: "I don't think he is the right man for the job. He was the head of the Prison Service before Alan Shannon and, some of the situation at the Maze emanates from when he was in control."

Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, described the inquiry as a sham. "This is a feeble and fumbling attempt to con the public into believing that something is being done when in effect it is a recipe for ensuring nothing will be done."