A s the fall-out continues following the New Year death-driving madness in West Belfast, we’ve been told that the specialist police unit tasked with dealing with car crime has been hit by a police reorganisation to provide cover for the nightly protests at ‘Camp Twaddell’.
Hoods have been wreaking havoc across West Belfast in recent weeks, the chaos peaking during the Christmas holiday period with thugs racing cars on the Falls Road on New Year’s Eve and running wild through Ballymurphy in stolen cars. This week alone, police chased a stolen car through West Belfast on Tuesday morning while two cars were stolen in creeper burglaries in Dunmurry Lane, with one found later in Ballymurphy.
As incidents increase, a source told us that some members of the PSNI’s Auto Crime Team, which has been instrumental in reducing vehicle-related crime in West Belfast over the past 10 years, have been diverted to “parade monitoring duties” at Twaddell Avenue. Last night the PSNI denied the claim, saying the Auto Crime Team continues to operate in the area (see below).
This week politicians in West Belfast challenged the PSNI over a perceived lack of action as car crime continues to rise. West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said that the police were “non-existent” in Ballymurphy, despite warnings that Christmas traditionally sees an upsurge in anti-social activity and car crime. Mr Maskey did not mince his words and has scheduled a meeting with the PSNI for tomorrow (Friday) in a bid to get answers.
“The entire policing operation over Christmas was dire to say the least, particularly in Ballymurphy,” he said. “The policing operation in the Ballymurphy area over the holiday period was non-existent. They have taken their eye off the ball and known thugs were running amok all over Christmas. At a multi-agency meeting before Christmas, it was made clear to the PSNI and other statutory bodies that there were community concerns over the Christmas period in the Ballymurphy area and in particular around individuals to be released on Christmas parole. We predicted a very negative development and informed the PSNI of those fears.
“Some offenders were subsequently released, resulting in what the community has described as a spree of crime, including threats to kill and joyriding.
“We understand that maybe all bail checks weren’t made and this resulted in criminality, not least death-driving, and there was no proper police reaction.
“There appeared to be at the very least a disjoint in terms of the management of these prolific offenders and volatile and dangerous individuals.”
Mr Maskey also claimed that when the PSNI did arrive on the scene at certain incidents across the district, they were less than co-operative with residents.
“When people in this community pass information to the police and statutory bodies, they do so in the best possible spirit to inform their operations in preparation for times where there may be heightened periods of anti-social behaviour and crime. In this instance it appears that the community advice and information was ignored.
“Police that responded to incidents over the Christmas and New Year period were at times unhelpful, arrogant and lacked the compassion that one would expect of a public servant when dealing with victims of crime. Everyone I have spoken to has told me they were disappointed in the police reaction which allowed a small number of criminals to bring the name of West Belfast down.”
Mr Maskey says that he will be seeking answers tomorrow when he sits down for a meeting with senior PSNI officers.
“I will be meeting with the local police commander on Friday to ascertain why known prolific offenders were given a free run to wreak havoc over the holiday period,” he said. “I will also highlight that the PSNI need to stop being reactive and be more proactive and I will be talking about the Auto Crime Team too. We will commend them when they do a good job but we will challenge them when they don’t, and they didn’t over the holidays.”