Students’ phones are snatched at bus stop

By David Whelan

A GANG of criminals believed to be responsible for a rise in break-ins and burglaries in the New Lodge area are preying on vulnerable schoolchildren as they queue for buses after school on the busy Antrim Road.
On Tuesday, a 16-year-old Belfast Royal Academy pupil became the second of the school’s students in a month to fall victim to a ‘snatch-and-grab’ attack at the lower end of the busy arterial route. The two young BRA students had their phones snatched by an unknown male at around 3.30pm, shortly after finishing school.
The attacks bear a clear resemblance to a spate of similar incidents last year. In April 2013, police were forced to issue a general warning of increased street robberies and in particular mobile phone thefts in the Antrim Road area after four teenage pupils were searched for valuables by a gang who held a sharp object to their throats.
The North Belfast News understands that a local gang believed to be responsible for a number of burglaries and thefts from local shops is being linked to the snatch-and-grab attacks.
Local Sinn Féin Councillor JJ Magee described the attacks as “cowardly and utterly disgraceful” and called on police to take effective action to protect the schoolchildren being targeted.
“I’m demanding the PSNI act urgently to combat this gang who have been operating in the area for some time,” he said.
“Residents in the general area and business owners have raised the problems caused by the gang and some of these individuals are known to the justice system, yet remain free to commit further crimes.
“There have also been previous incidents of thefts from local school children and an effective policing response is needed.”
Despite the similarities in the attacks police say they are not treating the attacks as linked or activity by a criminal gang.
Vice Principal of BRA, Albert Creighton, said that the school had spoken to police who were aware of the situation.
“I’ve spoken to the police about it, they know that there will be pupils from ours and other schools on the Antrim Road waiting to travel home around that time,” he said.
“Both of the recent cases are now in the hands of the police. Thankfully both girls were unharmed but we have spoken to all of our pupils about not having their phones out while standing at bus stops in particular or anywhere around the area.
“We will again be addressing the students about taking care in relation to their own personal safety and avoiding confrontation in such circumstances.”

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