Belfast Telegraph

Divis Hoods: The carjacking and joyriding thugs holding a west Belfast community to ransom

By Deborah McAleese

He is just 19 years old and the self-styled leader of the 'Divis Hoods'.

Released from the Young Offenders Centre in September after four months behind bars for car crime-related offences, the teenager vowed to turn over a new leaf.

Just weeks later he was back goading police and the local community, publicly saying he wouldn't be keeping his curfew.

He took to social media to post footage of stolen cars being driven at top speeds through urban streets, claiming it was the work of the Divis Hoods.

"Yehaaaa keep er lit. Up the DHLA (Divis Hoods Liberation Army) FTPSNIIIII (F*** the PSNI)" he wrote.

The Divis Hoods are a notorious gang in west Belfast responsible for car crime, burglaries, vandalism and thefts in the area. The gang is predominantly made up of teenage boys. However, children as young as eight, and a number of teenage girls, are also believed to be involved.

They gained notoriety around the time that 51-year-old Frank McCreevy was beaten to death at his Ross Street home in March 2008.

Riot police had to be deployed to the area on a nightly basis because the DHLA attempted to make the lower Falls a 'no-go' area after dark.

Three years ago a special police task force was set up to target the gang following a spate of terrifying carjackings across the city. Operation Rusico involved up to 60 police officers from the Auto Crime Team and the PSNI helicopter.

The operation resulted in a decrease in crime in the area due to the arrest and imprisonment of several gang members.

However, over the past year there has been a surge in fresh activity by the gang.

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The teenager's social media accounts give an insight into the world of a Divis Hood.

In October last year he boasted about having recently attacked a security guard in Belfast saying the man had "talked down" to him. He told his Facebook followers that he had "busted" the man's lip and nose. He then threatened to pour petrol over the c*** if he found out where he lived.

The west Belfast teen, who has spent large parts of his young life in the juvenile detention centre, was arrested in connection with the attack and then released on bail. He told his friends he was under curfew, banned from going into town between 10pm and 4am and not allowed to drink alcohol in a public place.

The following month he posted numerous photographs of different cars apparently stolen by the Divis Hoods and either damaged or burnt-out. He told his Facebook friends that one of the cars was taken on a joyride up and down Ross Road until it ran out of petrol.

Ross Road, Roumania Rise and Albert Street are the three main roads in the area that gang members use for joyriding and dumping their vehicles. The roads have a number of alleyways attached which make it attractive to joyriders for easier escape when police arrive.

After yet another run-in with police last November, the gang's leader had to be taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital for stitches.

"4 stitches and a good owl bateing for nothing. Cops are w******," he wrote.

In December he posted a photograph of a police car with a damaged bonnet and said that was "what happens when you play chicken with the DHLA lol".

According to community workers, New Year's Eve into New Year's Day was one of the worst nights for car crime in the Divis area in several years.

"Lock it or lose it. Hehehehehe. Happy New Year lads & ladys (sic) sit back and injoy (sic) the show DHLA", the teenager posted on his Facebook account shortly before trouble erupted.

Hundreds of people attended an illegal street race in the area and videos of the chaos were posted online. In one video three cars were shown racing through the narrow streets around Albert Street as well as skidding dangerously along the main Falls Road.

The video also showed the PSNI coming under attack by onlookers who battered the Land Rovers before one of the stolen cars rammed into the front of it. A second stolen car then took aim at the PSNI vehicle. In total, five police officers were injured.

"They took over the Falls Road. It was terrifying for the residents. We want to make sure that doesn't happen again," said Sinn Fein MLA Fra McCann, who lives in the area.

"We are all working together to try and come up with a solution to this. It's not fair on the people living here. In the space of about nine days a few weeks ago I think there was something like 21 stolen cars discovered burnt out in the area. We don't want another night like New Year's Eve," Mr McCann added.

A number of weapons have been recovered by police from gang members in recent months. However, it is easy for them to rearm. In March the Divis teenager, who had been tagged as part of recent bail conditions imposed by the court, had acquired a crossbow and machete, proudly posting a photograph of them on the internet. Under the photograph he wrote: "22inch blade sharp as f***".

Four days later he posted a photograph of a tagging device, suggesting it was one he had just taken off his ankle. F*** you tag... up the DHLA... place getting trashed" he wrote under the picture.

A few hours later he was brought before Belfast Magistrates Court for breach of bail. While there he was also charged with allowing himself to be carried in a stolen vehicle and resisting police. He spent the next five months behind bars at Hydebank Young Offenders Centre and later described his detention as "wee buns".

"In the block ya get your shower, iron your clothes, out to the yard, phone call whenever ya want, plus ya get room service, your dinners brought to your cell," he told a friend on social media.

But on his release in September he appeared to want to turn his back on his criminal past and stay out of trouble. He talked about how much he loved his mother and his grandmother and vowed that he was going to "keep his head down" from now on.

Appearing to reflect on his past he wrote: "You do stupid things and make stupid choices but in the end you pay the price."

Just five weeks later he gave into the temptation of his old lifestyle and once again began posting photographs of stolen cars and pledging his support for the Divis Hoods.

In November he was again arrested and charged with dangerous driving on the Falls Road and attempting to damage a police car.

He was released on bail on the condition he adhered to a curfew, wore a tag and signed bail every day. In recent days he claimed on social media that he was not going to stick to his bail conditions.

"F*** that s*** LOL" he said, adding that if his tag was not removed by Christmas Eve he was going to "rip it off". Appearing unconcerned that he faces jail if he breaches bail conditions, he said prison was "wee buns anyway".

Belfast Telegraph


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