Belfast Telegraph

Gang of 15 that attacked Polish trio playing football 'needs taken off the streets'

By Adrian Rutherford and Claire Williamson

Three young Polish nationals were savagely attacked by a 15-strong gang after being asked for a cigarette.

The victims were beaten with golf clubs during the terrifying incident, which took place while they were playing football.

One of the victims lost two teeth while the others suffered cuts and bruises.

The brutal attack – which police are treating as racially-motivated – took place between 9pm and 9.30pm near Lawnmount Street in south Belfast on Monday night.

The victims are two men aged in their early 20s and a 19-year-old woman.

All three are Polish nationals.

The gang responsible is said to have comprised 14 men and a woman.

Jerome Mullen, who is Poland's Honorary Consul in Northern Ireland, said he had spoken to police about the incident.

"As I understand it, they were out playing football and were approached by these people asking them for a cigarette," he said.

"They didn't have any and it was an excuse for them to engage with them in a violent way.

"Seemingly, the gang started to kick them, attack them and beat them up with golf clubs.

"It is quite a shocking crime and it seems to be following a series this year of attacks on Polish immigrants in various parts of Belfast."

Earlier this month police said the UVF had been orchestrating racist attacks in south and east Belfast. Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr told the Policing Board that the paramilitary-backed bigotry had contributed to an overall 70% rise in hate crime in the city.

However, police said there was no evidence yet to link paramilitaries to Monday night's attack, although they would be keeping all lines of inquiry open.

PSNI Superintendent Mark McEwan told the BBC it was an "appalling" incident.

"There has been a premeditated element to this," he said.

"When they discovered that this group of people were from another country they then, it would appear, went and retrieved these items and carried out these attacks.

"It was an appalling attack and I would appeal to members of the community who have information about this to come forward."

Mr McEwan said it was an opportunity for people to show that racism will not be tolerated.

"We have heard (people) speak out very strongly about how the community in east Belfast and south Belfast don't want this type of activity. There is an opportunity now for people to come forward and show their support by giving information to the police."

The attack has been widely condemned by political representatives.

DUP councillor Gavin Robinson said the community was shocked by the scale and "vicious nature" of the attack.

"I hope that the police will catch those who have been responsible," he said.

"There have been a number of attacks in and around the east Belfast area but this obviously has a scale which is not comparable with the others – and it's a shocking scale."

Alliance councillor Maire Hendron said people must realise racism is unacceptable.

"We must challenge the views of those responsible," she said. "We must send out a clear message that their actions are completely unacceptable.

"My thoughts are with the victims following this sickening attack. I hope they will be able to make swift recoveries from the injuries they sustained.

"No one deserves to be a victim of such an attack."

Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile appealed for anyone with information to bring it forward to the PSNI.

"Fifteen people engaged in an assault on people simply because of their race is the most disgusting kind of crime and people like that need taken off the streets," he said.

As local communities become increasingly diverse, a sinister new tribalism takes hold

Faded paramilitary slogans scrawled on the walls of working-class areas of Belfast offer a grim reminder of the hate that once divided a city.

But as the sectarianism of yesteryear slowly heals, an ugly new prejudice is emerging.

The influx of migrants has reawoken the bitterness and bigotry of bygone times, with foreign nationals now a target for some people's rancour.

A grotesque legacy of the past, animosity is now grounded in a new, 21st century guise – race and nationality.

An issue which has been growing in recent months reached new depths this week when 11 members of a family from the Traveller community were targeted in a gun attack in west Belfast.

They had lived there for less than a week and had barely unpacked.

Young children, tired from a sleepless night, looked around in confusion as reporters and television cameras arrived at the place they had called home for only a short while.

Mother Kathleen Doherty said: "To the people that did it, God forgive them. And pray for them, because they judged us and didn't take any time to get to know us."

A woman who lives on the street said: "I am absolutely appalled. My mother has lived here for over 60 years and we cannot take it in. Everyone is entitled to live. This is racism."

The shooting came just hours after news that three young Polish people were brutally attacked by a 15-strong gang of thugs armed with golf clubs.

That incident took place on a strip of land which has been turned into a community football pitch on the boundary straddling the east and south of the city.

Painted on the walls are illustrations of team jerseys, including one in the colours of Glentoran FC.

A fading mural of George Best also watches over a new generation who dream of emulating east Belfast's most famous son.

A few streets away, loyalist murals and slogans recall a very different history.

However, once tight-knit communities have become more diverse and multicultural over the years as immigration, particularly from eastern Europe, increases.

One resident, who lives around the corner from the scene of Monday's attack, explained: "We used to know all the people in our street but not any more."

She says most of the migrants who live there now are from Poland, while others are Romanian.

None of them, she adds, have caused her problems.

Outside a bar, a couple of men claim their migrant neighbours are involved in various anti-social activities, but this is not backed up by residents.

Many locals are worried at the spate of attacks on foreign nationals, and are keen to stress it doesn't reflect their views.

One middle-aged woman, who calls herself Margaret, says she is alarmed by Monday's attack. "It's worrying. That type of thing is becoming more common," she said.

She points to a wall just a few feet away where anti-Polish graffiti has been freshly sprayed. "That's only new. I think it happened on Sunday night."

Other racial slurs had been daubed on a second wall but were quickly painted over by angry locals, who were determined not to be associated with the prejudice and the bullying.

There is a steely determination amongst many people not to allow the hatred to take hold. Yet a minority of thugs continue to bring terror to communities.

Earlier this month a Polish family fled their Mount Vernon home in north Belfast after two attacks in three days.

Yesterday, in the wake of the latest attacks, people were angry and disillusioned.

"It's very sad," reflected one woman. "We are still getting used to not hating each other without all of this."

Further reading

Two racist attacks every day in Northern Ireland's race-hate crime surge 

Polish family flee loyalist Mount Vernon estate following spate of attacks

Forced out by racists: Rathcoole family terrorised by petrol bombs and smashed windows

Hate crimes: Windows smashed and man assaulted in separate weekend attacks in Belfast

Hate crime: Child's woolly hat lies amid the charred aftermath of a racist arson attack on family

Day after racist thugs attacked her home in east Belfast resilient Polish woman is back at work

Seven attacks in 10 days as racist gang targets Polish community in east Belfast 

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