Irishwoman shot six times by terror gang tells how she rebuilt her life after attack
A murder bid survivor has spoken of how she turned her life around by ditching her paramilitary pals and drugs to set up her own hugely successful business.
Stunning blonde Jemma McGrath – the ex-girlfriend of UVF boss Stephen ‘Mackers’ Matthews – detailed the transformation during an inspirational speech at a women’s conference last week.
In 2013 she was shot six times by the terror gang after being wrongly accused of providing the drugs that led to the overdose death of Alio McKenzie – the son of leading loyalist Alan ‘Bloodnut’ McKenzie.
After getting out of hospital the 26-year-old had to flee east Belfast because of further UVF threats to her life.
But rather than retreat into her shell Jemma turned her life around setting up the successful Make Up Your Life beauty business.
This remarkable change led to Training for Women Network (TWN) asking her to appear as a keynote speaker at its recent conferences in Derry City and the Titanic Centre in Belfast.
At both events Jemma talked passionately for the first time about how she overcame issues with drugs, alcohol and a lack of confidence to build a positive future for herself.
“My aim is to help young women take a different road to what I took,” said Jemma, to applause from the audience.
Afterwards TWN Chairwoman Patricia Lewsley praised the young businesswoman for turning her life around.
She said: “Jemma’s speech was inspirational and very well received. She displayed remarkable bravery in addressing around 200 people, many of whom she didn’t know, over both nights.
“Jemma showed that if you’re committed to turning your life around you can. She also said that if by speaking publicly about her own experiences she can help change the life of one person then it was worth it.”
Jemma has now made a full recovery from the September 2013 UVF gun attack that almost claimed her life outside a friend’s home on Lord Street Mews in east Belfast and shamed the paramilitary gangsters.
She was shot six times, with three bullets hitting her in the thigh, and the other rounds striking her in the stomach, elbow and foot.
The young woman was rushed to hospital where she underwent 12 hours of emergency surgery.
Afterwards Jemma was confined to a wheelchair for a number of weeks and had to learn to walk again.
The UVF was too embarrassed to claim the attack but sources within the terror gang confirmed she was targeted in retaliation for the death in June 2013 of Alio McKenzie.
Jemma was the last person the popular 26-year-old rang before he took a fatal overdose and that led to her being wrongly blamed on providing the bad ecstasy pills that took his life.
After Alio’s death she fled east Belfast but was targeted by the UVF on a visit to her mother Linda McGrath’s home on Templemore Avenue.
The murder bid caused major tension within the terror gang with the leader of its PUP political wing Billy Hutchinson saying those responsible should be “removed from society”.
Proud mum Linda accompanied Jemma to last week’s Training Women for Network conference in east Belfast, which was also attended by Stormont Junior Ministers Emma Little Pengelley and Jennifer McCann.
Afterwards the DUP and Sinn Fein politicians posed for pictures with the gorgeous make-up artist.
Sources who told Sunday Life about Jemma’s courageous decision to speak publicly about her past said her story should inspire anyone caught under the jackboot of paramilitaries.
“Jemma has showed that if you want to break free from a life of drugs and paramilitaries you can,” said a friend.
“She started going out with Stephen Matthews (UVF east Belfast boss) when she was a teenager and that led to her falling in with the wrong crowd.
“But she realised it was time to get away from that life and she is now a very successful businesswoman. If Jemma can do this then anyone can.”