Northern Ireland news

Gangland-style shooting of Stephen Carson a worrying escalation

Police search a house on Sunnyside Street in south Belfast close to where Stephen Carson (28) was shot dead

The murder of Stephen Carson, within earshot of his young son, has shocked residents of the quiet south Belfast street where it took place, an area usually free from the problems that plague some other parts of the city.

The victim was well known in his native west Belfast. He had a lengthy criminal record and was a close friend of Kieran McManus, shot dead in similarly brutal circumstances in 2013.

He had moved to Walmer Street off the Ormeau Road with his young family after receiving death threats.

It is the second shotgun murder of the year, following the shooting of 30-year-old Conor McKee in the Oldpark area of north Belfast last month.

All three men had found themselves for various reasons caught up in criminality, and all three have paid the ultimate price.

However, the latest shooting was carried out away from the gunmen's usual support structure and shows a growing confidence and worrying escalation in the violence they are willing to inflict.

Gangland-style shootings had been a relatively rare occurrence in the city until recent times.

The gang believed to responsible for the Carson, McKee and McManus murders includes seasoned gunmen who have dabbled in the past with various republican groups.

Small in numbers, its members include former INLA, Continuity IRA and members of splinter drug vigilante groups from north and west Belfast.

Men who have carried out armed cash-in-transit raids and held families at gunpoint during tiger kidnap robberies, they have access to weapons, are willing to main or kill and now it would seem are prepared to travel outside their usual power base to hunt down their target.

If allowed to continue to grow in numbers and capability they pose a very real threat in terms of escalating violent criminality, more commonly associated with cities such as Dublin or Limerick.

For gangland-style criminal gangs to gain a foothold in this way is a concerning development and one that if not stopped will spell misery and grief for yet more families.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access