| 8.4°C Belfast

Families fleeing homes in terror

The number of families terrorised from their homes has dramatically increased across Northern Ireland, shock new figures reveal.

Statistics from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive show the cost of relocating victims of terrorism and intimidation is almost double the total for last year.

During the first eight months of this year the Government forked out £7.2m buying up 32 properties under the Special Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings scheme.

This compares to 2007 when the Department for Social Development, which funds the SPED scheme spent £4.96m buying 22 houses that were evacuated for security reasons.

Thousands of homeowners, including dozens of security personnel have availed of the SPED scheme which was first set up in 1988 to allow those at risk of violence to move out quickly without first having to put their home on the market.

In the majority of cases applicants do not state their reasons behind their SPED application and the actual nature of the intimidation is handled by the PSNI.

A police service spokeswoman said data on intimidation and the use of the SPED scheme was not readily available.

To qualify for inclusion, an applicant has to prove that they own their home, have evidence verified by the PSNI that they are ‘at risk of serious injury or death', and have A1 (highest need) status on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive's (NIHE) housing list.

The PSNI must confirm, by means of a Chief Constable's Certificate, that it is unsafe for a family to continue to live in their home, and the Housing Executive will then purchase the property at market value.

According to the Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Housing Executive there have been 69 applications for SPED so far this year.

“These applications have come from homeowners across Northern Ireland,” said a spokesman for the NIHE.

In 2006 and 2007 the number of SPED applications were at their lowest ever levels with 60 and 62 applications respectively. In 2005 the figure was 120 while the year before that it was 123.

In 2002 the cost of the SPED scheme rose to an all-time high of £45m when applications soared to 295. It is thought |security leaks at Stormont and the break-in at Castlereagh |police station were responsible for the dramatic increases.

The latest figures emerged from a written question submitted to the Department by SDLP MLA Declan O’Loan who asked the Minister for Social Development to “explain the increased spending on the SPED scheme, that was funded in the September monitoring round”.

He told the Belfast Telegraph he was concerned that the increase reflected the growing threat from dissidents.

“Regardless of the fact that the number of people who have had to move out of their home because of intimidation has increased — that means there is a very serious security situation and I think we are entitled to know what the nature of that is.”

In September the NI Policing Board was told two police |officers were forced to move

under the SPED scheme.

Belfast Telegraph