Belfast Telegraph

Teen leader of Divis Hoods car crime gang taunts police online that he is 'untouchable'

By Deborah McAleese

The self-styled leader of a notorious car crime gang has boasted to police that he is untouchable.

Following a recent spate of terrifying carjackings and joyriding incidents across Belfast, the PSNI has launched a new operation to tackle the crimewave and vowed to catch those responsible.

But the teenage leader of the notorious Divis Hoods Liberation Army (DHLA) - the west Belfast gang believed to be behind a number of recent violent car crimes - has publicly goaded police that he will not be stopped.

The 19-year-old from the Divis area, who is tagged and under curfew after being released on court bail charged with a number of car crimes, took to social media just days after his recent arrest to boast that he would not be sticking to his bail conditions.

After acknowledging that officers were probably reading his online boasts, the serial offender, who cannot be named for legal reasons, added that he planned to "rip" his tag off if it is not removed by Christmas Eve. "F*** (that) s*** lol ... wonder when I'm gona learn (my lesson) and be good for once. (Up the DHLA)", he wrote.

The PSNI's area commander for west Belfast, Chief Inspector Anthony McNally, told the Belfast Telegraph that police have launched a new drive - Operation Galleas - to crack down on a rise in carjackings and related car crime across Belfast. In the last year there were more than 2,200 car thefts or related car crimes across Belfast - over 40 a week. Around 80 of those crimes were hijackings.

In recent weeks police have seen an increase in activity from car thieves and joyriders. In the space of just nine days this month, 21 stolen cars were discovered burnt out in the Divis area of the lower Falls Road.

And last week a number of women were targeted in several attempted hijackings across Belfast.

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Mr McNally said that as part of the police operation there will be an increase in high-visibility patrols in areas targeted by car thieves and roads favoured by joyriders.

"Op Galleas is designed at effectively investigating those offences when they happen, but primarily focusing on deterring them. This is about keeping people safe, to stop death-driving on these roads and potentially killing someone, as has happened in the past," said Mr McNally.

The 'Divis Hoods' are notorious for hijacking and stealing vehicles across the greater Belfast area, which they then 'joyride' until they crash or run out of petrol. Cars are then abandoned, smashed up or burnt out in the west of the city. Over the past six years there have been six different police operations aimed at tackling the problem.

"The fact they are still there means there does need to be a collective reinvigoration and refocus on car crime in the Divis area. There is still a difficulty there, and understandable frustrations within the community.

"We are now dealing with kids of parents and younger brothers who are still getting involved in this, so there is very much that need for a long-term approach," Mr McNally said.

He added: "There are a couple of specific streets where it is very clear that there are higher numbers of cars being 'death-driven'. We are working to stop that in those areas. Hopefully not displace it, but stop it.

The top officer insisted that police will be taking "robust action" against those who are determined to continue offending.

He said: "We will take robust action against those determined to commit crime. We already have a significant number of road deaths on our roads this year and we don't want to add to that." He added: "This sort of activity has brought death to the local community and we want to make sure no more tragedy is brought to their doors.

"If the determination is to continue to commit crime, it is our job to keep people safe and we will detect the offenders and bring them before the courts."

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