Belfast Telegraph

East Belfast: 25 crimes a week at besieged sectarian flashpoint

By Deborah McAleese

More than 20 violent crimes a week are being committed in a small part of east Belfast where police have been forced to step up patrols to target sectarian gangs.

Petrol bombs were thrown for a third night in the area on Monday as officers maintained their presence to stop Catholics and Protestants fighting in the street.

The PSNI said three devices were hurled at a Land Rover at around 11pm in Tamery Pass. After midnight, a further four were thrown at another Land Rover.

A spokesman for the PSNI said no one was hurt in the attacks.

For some time now, between 50 and 100 Protestant and Catholic youths have been gathering nightly along different streets in the area to fight each other, a local business owner said.

"It has been going on for weeks," he added. "Some nights, there are around 100 of them fighting.

"For a while they were gathering at the bridge on the way to the Odyssey, and then they moved up to the Castlereagh Street area over the weekend. Someone is going to be killed."

According to police statistics, there were 1,313 violent crimes in the area over a 12-month period – an average of around 25 a week.

There were also more than 1,000 incidents of arson and criminal damage, and 76 public order situations.

Violence in the area escalated at the weekend with trouble flaring up in the Mountpottinger Road, Castlereagh Street, Albertbridge Road and Templemore Avenue areas.

Petrol bombs were thrown three nights in a row, gangs of teenagers fought in the street and several houses were damaged.

It is understood the youths have been using social media to organise the violence.

According to a community worker in the area, paramilitary groups are also suspected to be encouraging the violence.

"It may be youths out on the streets causing the trouble, but let there be no mistake, paramilitaries are directing it," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

A number of politicians and community representatives are due to meet with the police in an attempt to bring the ongoing sectarian trouble to an end.

Politicians have also roundly condemned the violence.

"People in the area are just fed up with this," said UUP councillor Jim Rodgers.

"We are trying to bring investment into east Belfast, but business owners are sick of what is going on. So are residents.

"They don't want to feel like prisoners in their own homes, but between 9pm and 2am these thugs try to rule the streets."

According to police, close to 50 people have been arrested in the area over the past five months.

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