Belfast Telegraph

Young football team attacked by thugs at Whiterock Leisure Centre in west Belfast

By Cate McCurry

Children playing football at a leisure centre were attacked by spectators and had a dog set on them in a barbaric sectarian attack, a politician has said.

It happened at Whiterock Leisure Centre in west Belfast on Saturday following a football match between two under-16 teams, Ballysillan Swifts and Grosvenor Youth.

An investigation is now under way after it was claimed that a number of players from Ballysillan were attacked by a crowd of spectators.

It is believed one player was attacked with a weapon and had to be taken to hospital for treatment while other children suffered cuts and bruising.

The attack has been widely condemned, with unionist councillors describing it as sectarian.

In a statement released by Ballysillan Swifts, the club called on the PSNI and Belfast City Council to investigate the incident and went on to thank members of another football team who helped end the attack.

PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr said it was disturbing.

"It beggars belief that a group of children were subjected to barbaric sectarian abuse, vicious assault and a violent attack by republican adults and youths wielding hurling sticks," she said.

"What is worse is that a vicious, dangerous dog was also set on the children who, at one point, were protected by a group of volunteers who encircled them.

"The incident was so bad that the children were threatened by adults who shouted they didn't care what age they were.

"If any other section of the community was attacked with such regularity, then this would be treated as an outrage.

"Whether at interfaces, or just going about their daily business, Protestants are being attacked with regularity."

Tim Attwood, an SDLP councillor for the area, claimed that a sectarian motive of the attack had not been confirmed.

He continued: "I would urge people, and especially elected representatives, to exercise caution in casting judgment on the incident before the authorities have had time to come to a conclusion following a comprehensive investigation."

DUP councillor Gareth McKee also condemned the incident.

"Any incident such as this is hugely damaging to community relations and must be treated with the utmost seriousness.

"There can be no excuse for this disgraceful sectarian attack," he said.

PSNI Inspector Ian Lockyer said: "Police are investigating this incident and enquiries are ongoing."

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