Belfast Telegraph

Belfast tower block residents to get locks changed after police given master keys

By Jonathan Bell

Residents of nine Belfast tower blocks are to have their locks changed after it was revealed the Housing Executive handed master keys to the PSNI.

On Thursday police said they had returned the keys following concerns raised by residents in the New Lodge flats.

The Housing Executive asked the police to take the keys for emergency situations or in a life or death situation, police said. Officers have used the keys a number of times to access people's homes. Police did not go into any details of these instances.

On Friday, the Housing Executive revealed it had offered to change the locks in all the New Lodge flats as well as those flats in the Mount Vernon area. The police did not have master keys for Mount Vernon homes, the Housing Executive said. The organisation would not elaborate as to why the two blocks had been included.

The Housing Executive was unable to provide a cost, or estimate for the number of homes affected. However, in June it said of its 32 tower blocks across Northern Ireland there were over 1,900 residents.

A spokesman for the Housing Executive said: “A letter was hand delivered today to every resident living in the New Lodge and Mount Vernon tower blocks.

“Access to Housing Executive tower blocks by all visitors, including the emergency services, is permitted only by concierges employed by the Housing Executive to operate a 24 hour service at the tower blocks. CCTV is also present on each floor of the blocks.

“Unfortunately, there may be occasion when it is necessary to access a flat in a life or death situation. As a health and safety measure the PSNI was provided with master keys to enable such emergency access to a flat where a person's life may be at risk. The provision of a master key to the PSNI was to enable them to access flats in these emergency life and death situations."

The statement continued: “After concerns were raised by residents in the New Lodge, we have offered all of those living in the blocks the opportunity to have their door locks changed.

“We have also been liaising with resident representatives and elected representatives on the matter.

“After contacting the PSNI today, they have advised they are not in possession of a set of master keys for Mount Vernon.  As a result, the Housing Executive has taken the decision to offer a change of locks for each resident in Mount Vernon.

“The Housing Executive regrets any inconvenience caused.

“We can confirm that there have been no other instances where keys have been given to the PSNI for individual properties, belonging to the Housing Executive.”

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