Belfast Telegraph

37,000 Belfast motorists stopped in Christmas dissident crackdown

By Chris Kilpatrick

Almost 37,000 motorists were stopped at checkpoints throughout Belfast over the festive period as police swamped the city to combat the dissident threat.

The PSNI said it carried out 3,769 vehicle checkpoints, with a senior officer saying the huge operation saved lives.

The police presence was ramped up in the weeks running up to Christmas to prevent terror attacks in the heart of the city.

Attacks the previous Christmas included a car bomb at Victoria Square, an incendiary device in a golf outlet and an explosion in the Cathedral Quarter area on a Friday night when it was thronged.

As well as deterring attacks, police said the stop and searches also uncovered other criminal activity.

One vehicle stopped was found to contain Class A drugs with a street value of £35,000 and more than 200 traffic offences were detected, police said.

PSNI Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw said: "Over the festive period, large volumes of people were frequenting the city to shop, to socialise and to visit a range of different attractions. In preparation for this increase in footfall, we worked closely with businesses, retailers and licensees to reinforce crime-prevention messages linked to a variety of issues, from personal safety to retail crime to road safety.

"We also carried out 3,769 vehicle checkpoints, stopped 36,917 motorists and made 222 detections for road traffic offences. During this operation tactical support group officers stopped and subsequently searched a vehicle which resulted in the seizure of Class A drugs with a street value of £35,000.

"This visibility undoubtedly assisted in maintaining the safety of the city and preventing any terrorist-related incident from occurring.

"We will continue to do everything we can to protect you and your property in 2015 but everyone also has a responsibility to keep themselves and each other safe and to work with police so that together, we can make a difference."

Mr Grimshaw said as well as combating the terror threat, officers also focused on road safety and crime prevention during Christmas and the new year.

He said: "The high-visibility policing operations focused on policing plan priorities - such as reducing the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads, reducing the number of burglaries and dealing with the issues of domestic abuse, anti-social behaviour and drugs.

"Planned vehicle checkpoints also assisted in minimising opportunities for any terrorist incident.

"This road-focused operation also resulted in 25 arrests for drink-driving offences, 45 detections for excess speed and 92 motorists being detected for careless/inattention whilst driving."

He added: "Of the 65 arrests in the city centre between December 1, 2014 and January 2, 2015, 17 were in relation to theft, eight were in relation to disorderly behaviour, 25 were in relation to begging and three were linked to drug-related offences."

In the days before Christmas, Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr described Belfast as a "premium target" for terrorists. Mr Kerr said there had been an uplift in the lethal capability of dissidents.

Factfile

• 36,917 motorists stopped

• 3,769 checkpoints set up

• 65 people arrested

• 222 road traffic offences detected

• £35,000 worth of drugs seized in one search

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