Belfast Telegraph

Praise for solidarity amid riot, but alleged police advice causes anger

By ADRIAN RUTHERFORD

Claims that a police officer told a woman targeted during a sectarian rampage by a nationalist mob that she should move out of west Belfast are being investigated.

The PSNI said it was aware of the allegation, reported after dozens of youths armed with missiles and hurling sticks attacked residents in a mainly Protestant housing estate on Friday night.

Four cars were damaged and a house window smashed during the rampage by up to 100 youths.

Residents described how they were left terrified by the violence, which they said was the worst seen in the area since the 1970s.

The attack unfolded in the Ringford Park area around 10pm on Friday. Police are investigating reports that a crowd arrived after they were denied access to a nearby house party. They are treating the attack as a hate crime.

It has now been claimed that a police officer advised one woman who was targeted to move away.

DUP councillor Ruth Patterson claimed: "The police officer said to the lady 'well if incidents like this keep occurring, then maybe you should consider packing up and moving out'."

The claim was raised during talks yesterday between senior PSNI officers, community workers and residents.

Speaking after the meeting at Woodbourne PSNI station, DUP councillor Brian Kingston said the allegation was being probed.

"The area commander said he would be following that up," Mr Kingston said. "The name of that officer is known and that will be followed up."

A PSNI spokesman said: "We are aware of the claim and it is being investigated."

During the meeting, police pledged to step up patrols following Friday night's attack.

A special investigation unit has been set up to probe the violence.

"The overall purpose of the meeting was to convey the lack of confidence which Suffolk residents have in the protection being provided to them by the PSNI, in the light of this and previous sectarian attacks against their area," Mr Kingston said.

"The PSNI area commander said that since Friday night he has increased patrolling with three Land Rovers dedicated to the Blacks Road area.

"He further stated that four police officers have been dedicated to the investigation of the attacks."

Some Catholic families went to Protestant homes to offer support after Friday night's attack.

Brenda McCrum, a Protestant woman who has lived in west Belfast for 22 years, said one nationalist neighbour tried to stop the mob.

"One of the fellas actually came up and apologised," he said.

"He tried to hold the crowd back but he wasn't able to do it on his own. He said he was sorry for what happened."

Gerry McConville, director of the Falls Community Council, insisted relations between Protestants and Catholics have not been damaged by the attack.

"An incident like this shows just how strong those relations are," he said. "On Friday night, both sides of the community came together to try to stop this attack and we've been out on the streets since then with our colleagues across the divide."

UDA leader Jackie McDonald said there was a mood of understanding among those who attended the meeting.

"It's a good opportunity for the people of Suffolk to explain just how they feel and to explain their frustration," he said. "There is a very understanding mood.

"The people there (in west Belfast) are disgusted at what happened, so there is community support all round here."

Meanwhile, Mr Kingston said last night that the windscreen of a car in Carnmore Park in Suffolk was smashed by a rock thrown from Stewartstown Road.

He said the car belonged to a Polish couple with two children.

He said police had attended and were investigating.

QUOTE

"One of the (Catholic) fellas actually came up and apologised. He tried to hold the crowd back but he wasn't able to do it on his own. He said he was sorry for what happened."

Protestant woman Brenda McCrum, describing how her Catholic neighbour tried to help

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