Belfast Telegraph

Row over armed road block 'prank'

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie is to demand talks with police after Protestant youths were blamed for what was initially described as a dissident republican armed checkpoint.

After reports that men stopping traffic at around 9pm last night at Attical near Kilkeel had produced a gun, DUP Assembly member Jim Wells said he feared it was an attempt to murder police officers.

He later, however, withdrew his claims and blamed unionist youths for the incident which he described as a "prank".

Ms Ritchie said she was concerned at the episode and added: "I will be seeking face-to-face talks with the police on this incident."

The SDLP leader said if a road block was mounted in her constituency, whether paramilitary or not, "it could have caused terror" to members of the public.

In response to claims that a legally held gun may have been detected during police enquiries, a PSNI spokesman said: "Three youths were spoken to as witnesses during the course of our investigation last night.

"There was no production of a weapon or mention of one.

"No arrests have been made to date in connection with this incident.

"Police investigations into suspicious activity in Attical in Kilkeel last night are ongoing and police would again appeal for anyone with information to contact them."

The police service had earlier said the presence of an armed checkpoint was one line of inquiry, while it was reported that a police helicopter was used as part of the investigation.

In the hours after the incident Mr Wells initially said: "I have received reports that armed men stopped cars near Attical. This caused alarm in the area and I strongly believe that this was a repeat of a similar roadblock which occurred near Rostrevor in November.

"It would appear that the previous incident was an attempt to murder an off duty Catholic police officer and I am anxious to find out if this was a second attempt to kill a member of the PSNI.

He later withdrew the claim and said of the circumstances: "Whatever this prank was, it could have ended up horribly wrong."

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