Children attack worshippers in church
But police couldn't find where we were, says distraught rector
An Ulster minister today hit out at the police after officers were unable to find his church to stop children attacking the congregation.
The Rev Charles McCartney, Rector of St Donard's Church of Ireland in east Belfast, said children of primary school age have been throwing slates at worshippers and setting off firecrackers during services.
But when he phoned police at the nearby Willowfield station, which is closed at night, he was automatically transferred to Lisburn Road police station in south Belfast.
The new police district command unit structure introduced in April amalgamates south and east Belfast as one district.
Mr McCartney, who served for 15 years as an Army chaplain and accompanied British soldiers in Iraq, said he was worried by police cover in the area at night.
"We were automatically put through to the Lisburn Road, who knew nothing about the area," he said.
"Strandtown station is so close you could hit it if you had a decent catapult, yet they took half an hour to get here."
Over the last fortnight Mr McCartney said children had set off " packages that exploded like a firearm" during services.
"It was particularly distressing for some members of the congregation who have lost loved ones over the last 30 years."
"Children of primary school age climb up on to the apex of the roof - more than 100ft high - and use it as a slide.
"Because they have this height advantage, they use it to break off slates and lob them at people below. They throw stones at cars and I have twice had stones thrown at me as I walked on the footpath.
"We have an elderly congregation who are not fit to chase these boys and we are worried about their safety on the roof."
Mr McCartney said instead of chasing the youths away he had taken photos of them on the roof which he then gave to police to identify.
But a PSNI spokeswoman said police could not use the photos in court if police officers did not take them.
Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers said the attacks saddened him.
"I was brought up in this area and it is sad to see the house of God attacked in this way," he said.
"I have asked the police to step up patrols in this area and appeal to all parents to ensure they know where their children are.
"The children are just running wild, clambering over the roof and have smashed windows in the church hall - they could easily be killed or seriously injured."
The Lord Mayor said the situation was particularly difficult as the old church suffered in the June flood.
In a statement, the PSNI said the new District Command Unit structure " allows for policing functions to be amalgamated and streamlined, allowing for more officers to be engaged in front-line policing."