Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Holyland residents 'at wits end' as universities probe scores of anti-social behaviour cases

Police in the Holylands
Police in the Holylands
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Queen's University is investigating 100 cases of anti-social behaviour in the Holyland area of Belfast since the beginning of term in September.

Figures obtained by the BBC show that the cases had come before the university's disciplinary officers up to October 11. They are currently ongoing.

Ulster University (UU) has issued 47 written warnings to students living in the area from the start of the academic year in September until November 7.

It comes as the chair of a local residents association said residents have reached breaking point.

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Brid Ruddy

Brid Ruddy from the College Park Avenue Residents' Association said the statistics in no way represented the scale of anti-social behaviour taking place in the area.

From August 2018 Queen's has fined 33 students a total of £4,900 while UU has fined 25, getting £1,400 from 17 students in the 2018/19 year.

Queen's confirmed that 168 cases involving students living in the Holyland area came before their disciplinary officer in the last academic year. Alongside the fines, 113 students were given written warnings.

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UU suspended two students and issued 64 written warnings during the 2018/19 academic year. One student has been suspended since the start of term this year.

No students living in the Holyland area have been expelled since the beginning of August 2018 due to anti-social behaviour.

Police said they were always encouraging people to respect the area in which they live and there was a huge onus on the parents and guardians of young people to ensure they understood the potential life and career limiting impact a criminal conviction could have.

Mrs Ruddy said the enforcement stats didn't begin to reflect the real picture of anti-social behaviour in the area.

She described the enforcement figures from the universities as "ridiculous".

"These figures are nowhere near representing the reality of life in the Holyland. The residents are at their wits end."

She said that students were being spared from criminal prosecution as police are referring incidents in the area back to the universities for them to deal with.

"Very few students are being prosecuted, it's almost like the law doesn't apply to them," she said.

"The whole approach from police, universities and council needs to be reviewed because it simply isn't working."

She said that while Freshers is only supposed to last for a week it has never stopped for Holyland residents.

"We had students partying this week from 6.30am right through to the next morning, the universities being closed due to the recent strike seems to have given them another excuse to drink.

"This is an ongoing problem due to the high numbers of students rammed into tiny homes."

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Ray Farley of the Holyland Regeneration Association

Chief Inspector Gavin Kirkpatrick added: "Some young people visiting the area are not only completely disregarding this guidance, but are making the lives of some residents miserable. Local residents should feel safe in their homes, and not be subjected to behaviour which is not just disrespectful, but in some cases criminal."

He said police were constantly patrolling the area and said there were "far too many calls from residents who feel frightened, or are just fed up with the behaviour of some young people who I very much doubt would behave in the same manner in their own home or community".

“While we do not want to see young people gaining a criminal record, we deal with every report and every incident in a proportionate manner. That can mean issuing a penalty notice, a community restorative notice, or in the case of the behaviour of some students, referrals to their educational establishment.”

Ray Farley from the Holylands Regeneration Association said that the universities do punish students when matters are called to their attention, but admitted the figures did not match up with what he sees in the area.

He said that residents do appreciate the work of the PSNI and Belfast City Council but that a "sterner hand" was needed to tackle the issues.

Mr Farley said that young people from outside the area were being drawn to the Holyland because they knew they would not be punished for their actions as they would elsewhere.

"There is a perceived situation of abandonment, the current approach isn't working" he said.

"This is a term time problem because we know that when the young people return home these issues don't persist.

"The police and council staff are outnumbered by the young people in the area, what can police do if 1000 young people don't' want to obey the law? It should be stopped before it reaches that level."

In a statement Queen's pledged to fully investigate any complaints or reports of anti-social behaviour.

"A strict off-campus disciplinary code is in place, and if any Queen's student is found to have brought the university into disrepute, they are subject to the full rigours of this code," the statement said.

Director of community engagement at UU Professor Duncan Morrow said the university would take action against any student found to be involved in the anti-social behaviour.

"If appropriate and sufficient evidence is provided, the university will respond appropriately, ranging from providing advice, instruction, cautions and fines to academic suspension or expulsion."

"Council continues to work in partnership with the PSNI, the universities and other statutory agencies to address concerns around anti-social behaviour," a Belfast City Council spokesperson said.

Ulster University said students were informed of their responsibilities in regard to anti-social behaviour.

“We are proud of our role in the community and the positive contribution our talented students make to society but we will not tolerate any level of anti-social behaviour by a minority who bring their institution into disrepute," a spokesman said.

“Ulster University has robust disciplinary procedures in place to deal with any incidences of anti-social behaviour.  Each complaint is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and is fully investigated by senior University staff.  If appropriate and sufficient evidence is provided the university will respond appropriately – ranging from providing advice, instruction, cautions and fines to academic suspension or expulsion.”

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