Two brothers who barricaded themselves inside a house in south Belfast in a stand-off with armed police finally handed themselves over to officers yesterday after a dramatic seven-hour siege.
Matthew Doherty (24) and his 28-year-old brother Damien, who had locked themselves inside the Powerscourt Place property, walked out of the house with their hands up shortly before 12pm.
There were loud cheers of support for the men from residents and bystanders as they walked from the house and gave themselves up to officers from the PSNI’s specialist firearms unit who had surrounded the property.
The men were then arrested and taken away in the back of a police Land Rover.
Relatives said the pair’s sit-in protest was prompted by a family feud that seemingly led to the house being reclaimed by the Housing Executive without their prior knowledge.
Their father Francis, who was at the scene for several hours yesterday morning, said if police had let him speak to his sons the stand-off would have been brought to an end earlier.
“They didn’t let us speak to them. If they had it would have been over hours ago,” he said.
A large number of armed police swooped on the estate at 5am yesterday morning and used a loud speaker to warn residents to stay indoors. It was reported that a number of shots from a suspected air rifle were fired in the direction of police and their vehicles during the altercation.
The back window of a local resident’s car was also shattered during the early morning fracas.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph on the phone from his former bedroom shortly before he handed himself over to police, Matthew Doherty said the property belonged to him and he did not want to leave it.
“This is my house,” he said.
“All I can see outside are police with guns and Land Rovers. We threw the pellet gun out of the window — it is in the garden. We have no other firearms in here, but I’m worried the police are going to storm the house”.
Trouble erupted in the early hours of yesterday morning after the pair went to the house, allegedly to pick up some of their belongings. Part of the building has been boarded up but an Irish tricolour was being flown from a broken window in the property.
Relatives told the Belfast Telegraph that the men were evicted along with their father by the Housing Executive three weeks ago, but had not had a chance to recover their belongings.
They also said the brothers — who are currently sharing a one-bedroom flat with their father and another brother — were upset at not having been re-housed by the Executive.
Their uncle Paul said the situation, which he described as being “totally out of control”, could have been resolved hours earlier if family members had been allowed to speak with the brothers.
“Matthew and Damien asked for me and the parish priest to come to the house to see them but we weren’t allowed. We had gone up to see them. This all could have been resolved at 8am,” he said.
Neighbour Stephen Barrett was at home when he heard the PSNI warning around 5am.
“I heard glass smashing and then an announcement from the police telling us to remain indoors and stay away from the windows,” he said.
From early morning police negotiators had been attempting to resolve the situation.
Around 11am riot police began to approach the property as the brothers appeared at the front windows waving their mobile phones.
Officers then appeared to enter the garden and retrieve an object.
There were reports that a television was thrown from one of the windows as tensions began to spill over. But by noon both brothers had left the building with their hands up and appeared to pose little trouble to officers waiting to arrest them.
As neighbours converged on the property, police formed a guard outside to prevent entry by members of the public as armed members of the special firearms squad proceeded inside.
A number of people in the area have described the men as “harmless”.
And relatives said that barricading themselves in their former home was a “cry for help” and a “last desperate attempt” to hold onto it.
In a statement the Housing Executive said they were aware of the ongoing situation and keen to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.
“The property at Powerscourt Place was not the subject of an eviction notice, indeed the legal tenant of the property transferred to another Housing Executive property with effect from April 27, 2009”, a spokeswoman said.
“As is normal procedure the house was secured pending re-allocation.”
The Housing Executive also confirmed that the brothers have applied for housing and are currently on a waiting list.
Chief Superintendent Brian Maguire said the operation was aimed at protecting the whole community and he thanked local residents for their patience and co-operation.
“We regret any inconvenience caused, however our priority was the safety of the community,” he said. “I would also pay tribute to the professionalism of the highly trained officers, including the negotiators, who skilfully brought this dangerous and complex situation to a safe conclusion.”
You couldn’t make it up – and you didn’t need to
Claire McNeilly spent the morning outside the siege house in south Belfast —and found it a rather unusual experience
It was like something out of the movies.
Reports of a shooting incident, PSNI Land Rovers and unmarked police cars racing to the scene, scores of armed officers manning the area.
And, of course, the cordons preventing access to the south Belfast property at the centre of the drama.
Two brothers had taken over a house in Powerscourt Place, just off the Ormeau Road. It was apparently their former home. And there were rumours about a pellet gun which had allegedly been used to fire at police vehicles.
I crept a little closer to the scene via the back of the small cul-de-sac, which was full of the men’s family, friends and neighbours.
At the far end of the road, outside the besieged property, stood a huddle of special firearms officers and two armoured vehicles.
Other officers thronged the street and members of the emergency services hovered expectantly.
A concerned uncle told me that the men, both in their 20s, had gone into the Housing Executive property they used to live in to collect their belongings. The building was partially boarded up.
The brothers’ distressed father wasn’t allowed near his sons. Another cordon went up.
The Press were told to step further back to the very end of the street.
Invited inside an aunt’s house I was told an earlier request by the pair to speak to the family priest was denied. Had that happened, relatives said the stand-off would have ended immediately.
The brothers were said to be terrified — but one of them spoke to me on his mobile from inside the house. He was in his former bedroom, he said, and he wasn’t coming out,
Suddenly I noticed five officers — one armed with a battering ram — scurrying towards the back entrance of the besieged dwelling, away from the main cordoned area.
I followed them at a distance until a neighbour living opposite let me in to watch the ongoing activity from an upstairs window.
The special firearms unit aimed their guns upwards as the brothers leant out the windows. After some shouting officers entered the garden, appeared to retrieve something, then stepped back.
Back to the aunt’s house to hide in the garden, I watched events unfold from a small opening in a high wooden fence that surrounded it.
There was a loud cheer. Then I saw one brother — the man I had spoken to — walking towards officers with his hands up. Neighbours were moving closer towards the house, so I left my hiding place to join them.
A few minutes later his brother surrendered to applause on the street and the reluctant duo were finally reunited in the back of a police Land Rover.
And that was the end of a dramatic seven-hour stand-off. It was one of those stories that simply told itself — you really couldn’t make it up if you tried.