Divis Hoods steal car in front of PSNI in Christmas Day rampage
Members of a notorious west Belfast car crime gang brazenly stole a car in front of police officers and then went on a rampage through the city on Christmas night.
The PSNI stepped up patrols in the area following public threats from members of the 'Divis Hoods' that they intended to "wreck the place" over Christmas.
However, officers were unable to prevent gang members - who are well-known to police - from going on a crime spree throughout Christmas night and into Boxing Day morning.
According to an eyewitness, gang members, who are mostly young teenagers, had been drinking throughout the afternoon in the Divis area.
Two police Land Rovers were in the area, and at around 10pm, within their sight, a number of the teens smashed the window of a seven-seater car and sped off in it.
"It took the police Land Rovers ages to turn around to follow the car. By the time they did the car was long gone," the eyewitness told the Belfast Telegraph.
"They then went mad in the Donegall Road area. It wasn't as bad as previous Christmas nights, but it was bad enough," he added.
The self-styled leader of the Divis Hoods took to social media to boast about the crime spree.
The 19-year-old - who is currently on bail accused of a number of car crimes, is tagged and under a strict curfew - was believed to have been in the middle of the Christmas night trouble.
At 5pm on Christmas Day he wrote on Facebook that he and "all the boys" were in one of the local pubs and added: "utdhla (Up the Divis Hoods Liberation Army)".
Five hours later the prolific offender - who just a few weeks ago boasted on Facebook that he would not be adhering to his bail conditions over Christmas - said that he and the Divis Hoods were "wrecking" the Donegall Road. He added: "utjrs (up the joyriders)".
One of his fellow gang members took to Facebook to goad police and said, "Up the Hoods, F*** the PSNI ... happy crimbo w******".
"It just never stops. There is only a handful of them but they are ruling the area. They are not afraid of anyone. They just laugh at the police. It is a game to them," one local resident said.
SDLP west Belfast councillor Colin Keenan said: "Bail conditions, tagging, curfews, none of that seems to stop these offenders. They don't seem to care about getting caught by police.
"They are causing misery in the area."
In recent days gang members posted photographs of swords and a replica gun on their social media pages, sparking concern about the danger they posed to the public.
The gang is responsible for the majority of joyriding incidents in west Belfast, where stolen cars are driven dangerously before being abandoned, smashed up or burnt out. Members have recently been trying to outdo another car crime gang, the North Belfast Hoods.
Members of both gangs have been implicated in a number of carjackings in the city.
A police operation - Operation Galleas - was launched at the start of December to crack down on the rise in carjackings and related car crime.
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At the start of December the PSNI launched Operation Galleas to crack down on a rise in car-jackings and related car crime. In the last year, there were more than 2,200 car thefts or related car crimes across Belfast. Around 80 of those were hijackings. During just nine days last month, 21 stolen cars were discovered burnt out in the Divis area of the lower Falls Road.