Police hunting man who threatened Belfast dole staff over phone with sword
Police are hunting for a Belfast man who threatened social security office staff with a samurai sword.
The PSNI has warned people not to approach him if they spot him. The man, aged 29, was wearing a red hoodie and red beany hat at the time.
He had visited a city centre benefits office last Friday to discuss his claim, an interview which it is understood was conducted perfectly amicably.
But yesterday morning the man telephoned the social security office and made threats against office staff - at one point mentioning a samurai sword.
The PSNI declined to reveal the man's identity or at which office the staff had been threatened.
It instead issued a warning via social media, asking the public to report any sightings of the man via the 999 emergency service.
Police also warned members of the public not to approach the man if he is seen.
Tony McMullan, assistant secretary of Nipsa, the public sector workers' union, said he had not received any report of the threat from his members.
But he was aware of the frustrations faced by benefits claimants, which sometimes boiled over into threats to social security staff.
"Most of the threats our members would receive are verbal from people frustrated with things like the level of benefits they are entitled to or the processes that they have to go through to claim benefits.
"Thankfully, it's a long time since we have had any actual physical assaults on one of our members in a social security office, and there are special procedures in place to ensure staff stay safe."
Security measures in place include panic buttons for staff to trigger if they feel in danger, and 'floor walkers'.
These are private sector security staff who monitor the public spaces in social security offices in order to intervene and defuse potentially aggressive situations.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Social Development said: "We can confirm that an incident did take place at a Social Security Office in Belfast.
"This is now a police matter and we cannot comment further."
She also declined to identify the benefits office where staff were threatened.