Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Odyssey’s journey from city hot spot to crime black spot

By Lesley Houston

One of Northern Ireland’s premier entertainment spots is being overshadowed by violence which has placed it among one of the four top crime hot spots in Belfast, according to police.

Last year, crimes in the area around Odyssey complex rose by 50%. Figures just released by police show the number of violent and sex crimes in the area has exceeded 1,500 in just five years, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

There have been more than 2,000 reported crimes in total in the area since 2007.

Nearly three-quarters of those have been incidents of violence against the person and sexual offences.

Figures covering the months from April 2011 to January 31 this year reflect rising crime.

In recent weeks there has been a public outcry over the danger of cheap drinks promotions, poignantly illustrated by the case of Belfast barman Joby Murphy (20), who died after falling into the Lagan after drinking at one of the clubs in the Odyssey Pavilion.

It is thought he became heavily drunk as a result of a drinks promotion which offered customers nine vodka shots for just £9.

Though the young man died from a tragic accident rather than by violence, Mr Murphy’s father directly blames the cheap booze culture for his son’s death.

The practice of low-cost drink offers has also been blamed for the high number of crimes and sexual assaults.

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has echoed the public outcry by announcing plans to launch a consultation on regulations to ban irresponsible drink promotions that encourage excessive drinking.

Meanwhile, young people continue to be left battered following assaults and brawls on the manicured lawns of the Odyssey and in the surrounding precincts.

Statistics revealing the extent of those violent incidents have been released by the police, and they make for startling reading.

Figures from the PSNI’s Statistics Branch reveal that between 2007 until January 31 this year, 2,059 crimes were reported, varying from violent assaults and sex attacks, to burglary, robbery, criminal damage and drug-related incidents.

Of those, 72% — or 1,484 — crimes — have been identified as “violence against the person and sexual offences”.

It will never be known just how many other similar crimes have gone unreported.

In the same period, 2007/08 until January 31 this year, there have been 362 reported incidents of burglary, robbery, theft, fraud and forgery; 136 incidents of criminal damage; and 77 crimes categorised under drugs and other miscellaneous offences.

Groups like Victim Support NI have confirmed that a “significant” number of young people, especially young men, who come through the doors of its Belfast branch, have been victims of crime at the Odyssey.

There have also been suggestions that in addition to the rows which erupt during Friday and Saturday nights inside the venue itself, young teenage patrons are also falling prey to local thugs who loiter in the area until closing time reveals the easiest — often the drunkest — targets to pick on.

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