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Harassed locals hope Holy Land CCTV is answer to their prayers

By Heather McGarrigle

Residents in Belfast’s ‘student land’ are hoping that the introduction of CCTV cameras will prevent the violence that gripped the area last St Patrick’s Day.

The £100,000 pilot scheme in the Holy Land area is aimed at reducing ongoing anti-social behaviour and crime, initially focusing on the festivities next week.

Major disturbances — bearing more resemblance to a riot than a celebration — last year left police injured and residents trapped in their homes.

Carol Summerville (66), who witnessed the riots, said: “It was all drink-fuelled. I live one street over from Carmel Street and the local off-licence was chaotic with drunk people piling in wanting more booze. In the end the police had to close the place down. We could only leave the house by the back door; it was so frightening seeing the riot squads out in our streets.”

Blame for the trouble has been levelled largely at students for a number of years.

Suzanne Wylie, the council’s head of environmental health, said: “Residents and Community Safety Wardens were among those consulted about the camera sites, which are located in ‘hotspots’ throughout the Holy Land area.

“These will be monitored 24 hours a day in the Musgrave Street police station and there will also

be a multi-agency emergency centre in the City Hall.

“If there is any activity we can act swiftly before it gets out of control.”

Seven cameras will be operational before St Patrick’s Day, with another five going live in coming months. They will initially be in place for a year and could remain permanently or be deployed elsewhere in the city.

Carol thinks the cameras are a good idea. “Hopefully it’ll have some effect in keeping things calm. There have been quite a lot of burglaries recently too, so it should benefit all the residents, including the students.”

Laura Hawthorne, from Queen’s University’s Students’ Union, agreed student residents also deserved protection: “Students living here are often victims of crime and theft. We have been reassured by the working relationships we’ve had in this scheme.

“The students’ union has had a voice the whole way through the process. A lot of the issues are concerns shared by the whole community, including students.”

The universities have been involved in campaigns and leafleting to encourage students to adopt a peaceful approach to the celebrations.

PSNI South Belfast area commander Chief Inspector Trevor O’Neill described the CCTV project as “a testament to partnership working on the ground”.

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