Belfast Telegraph

Arson attacks on cars in Belfast putting lives at risk, says police chief

By Chris Kilpatrick

Mystery surrounds the motive of arsonists behind a spate of attacks on cars in south Belfast - with a senior police officer accusing them of putting lives at risk.

The PSNI has set up a special unit and deployed officers with cameras into the area after eight vehicles were set alight in the past week.

Two cars were burnt in Delhi Street, off the Ormeau Road, in the early hours of yesterday.

The owner of one, a Volvo, said he had just bought it for £26,000. A Toyota belonging to a young family was also destroyed.

The attacks follow six similar incidents in the nearby Holyland area at the weekend. Police say they have not yet identified any motive for the attacks.

They are examining CCTV footage in an attempt to identify the perpetrators.

And in the coming nights more officers will be on the streets of south Belfast in an attempt to prevent yet more damage being caused.

PSNI Superintendent Darrin Jones said the spate of attacks was being treated "extremely seriously".

"A dedicated policing operation has been implemented to identify offenders and officers are being deployed with video capability," he said.

"This is extremely reckless behaviour which poses a real risk to life. Streets in this area are very narrow and where a fire starts it has the potential to spread very rapidly."

Mr Jones said there had been a "significant police presence" in the Holyland area for two weeks due to the influx of new students.

Since then, officers have responded to 27 incidents involving students and have referred 40 matters to universities.

Police and council workers are carrying out regular patrols to prevent on-street drinking in the area.

Political representatives said they were unaware of any tension in the area between students and residents.

And they urged those creating a climate of fear as a result of the arson attacks to stop immediately.

The Volvo's owner said he had seen suspicious activity around his vehicle earlier in the evening.

He said he spotted somebody crouched beside the tyre of his car who then made off when he knocked his window at him.

"I thought he was slashing the tyres of cars," said the vehicle owner.

"I went to the window and knocked it and he just walked off. Later on I heard another noise and when I looked out my car was on fire."

The woman who owned the Toyota was too distressed to speak as she removed personal items from the shell yesterday afternoon.

Ulster Unionist councillor Bob Stoker said people had no idea what was behind the attacks.

"It doesn't seem sectarian, racist or anything like that," he said.

"People are at a loss to work out what's behind it as it all seems very random.

"None of the victims seem to know each other or anything.

"There is a lot of concern given it is so random."

Mr Stoker said relations between students and residents had been good in recent years.

"Apart from the few times when there is a bit of upset, such as St Patrick's Day or other celebrations, the rest of the year it's fairly calm.

"You will get the odd house having parties but it's not a question of getting the rowdy students out.

"There are students in other parts of the city and we aren't seeing any of this type of behaviour."

Alliance MLA Anna Lo said the attacks had created fear in the area.

"There is no inkling of any problems between students and residents," she said.

"We have no idea. I'm shocked by the mindless, wanton vandalism and destruction.

"More police patrols are needed to end this."

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