Belfast Telegraph

2,000 intimidated from their homes in Northern Ireland - but only 32 convictions

New figures show almost 2,000 incidents of people being forced from their homes in Northern Ireland over the past five years.

In the same period more than £7.5 million has been spent by the Housing Executive to rehouse those impacted.

The information is revealed in information released to investigative website The Detail.

Despite the high number of incidents, between March 2011 and August 2016 there were just 32 convictions in cases where people were forced to leave their homes due to intimidation.

Figures show that in the past five financial years between 2012/2013 and 2016/2017 the Housing Executive spent £6,709,430 to purchase properties from homeowners forced out as a result of paramilitary, sectarian, racist, sexual orientation, and disability-related intimidation.

These properties were purchased through the Scheme for the Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings (SPED).

For renters, Emergency Grant Payments of £754 were made in more than 1,000 cases where people were forced out due to intimidation.

A breakdown of the types and location of the intimidation by The Detail suggest the majority of incidents involved loyalist paramilitaries.

Housing Intimidation from The Detail on Vimeo.

An analysis for the past two years by council area show the majority of incidents happened in Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh, Ards & North Down, and the Antrim & Newtownabbey council areas.

While in the past five financial years the Housing Executive has purchased properties in more than 2,000 cases, in a further 1,000 cases the findings were rejected.

A freedom of information request made to the PSNI by the publication requesting the number of individuals arrested on grounds of intimidation was refused as gathering the required information would be prohibitively expensive.

A freedom of information request to the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service recorded 32 convictions that related to "intimidation - causing a person to leave residence/ occupation".

Speaking to The Detail, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said £50 million was being spent on a new paramilitary taskforce, with tackling intimidation being part of its focus.

Paramilitary intimidation was highlighted last month when threats forced four Catholic families to leave the Cantrell Close shared housing scheme in south Belfast.

Speaking after a meeting of the Policing Board, chief constable George Hamilton said: "We have been engaged with the community in south Belfast and we are of the view that there is people purporting to be of east Belfast UVF behind those threats.

"Whether or not that is an organisational position we do not know because it is a chaotic disorganised crime group - that is how I would describe east Belfast UVF."

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