Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland police accused over conviction rates for punishment attacks

By Deborah McAleese

Police are struggling to catch the vigilante paramilitaries carrying out violent punishment attacks, with less than 4% of the crimes solved in the last five years.

Out of 457 punishment shootings and attacks recorded by the PSNI from 2009/10, charges have been brought in just 16 of the cases, PSNI statistics show.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes, from the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said that to bring those responsible before the courts police need evidence and the support of the injured party, but this "can be challenging for a variety of reasons."

Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said not enough is being done to encourage victims and witnesses to give evidence.

"Communities feel intimidated. They are afraid to come forward to give evidence. The police need to give protection to witnesses and victims in these sort of crimes. I don't think enough is being done by the police or the courts," Mr Craig said.

He added: "The PSNI is really struggling to deal with this. In the case of assaults, it might be difficult to gather forensic evidence to assist investigations. But when munitions and ballistics are used you start to ask questions as to why these are not being followed up. Where is the intelligence around these weapons that are being freely circulated?"

Detective Superintendent Geddes stressed that police "work diligently to find evidence to bring those responsible before the courts."

"Those who are involved in paramilitary style attacks do not represent the interests of any community nor contribute anything to it," he said.

"Those small groups of individuals who continue to try and terrorise people and commit criminal acts must be isolated from communities.

"We would ask that every right-minded member of society works with us, to give us the information we need to put these people out of business and make Northern Ireland a safer place."

Officers investigating paramilitary style attacks have had some success in recent months. In June as part of a large police operation related to punishment attacks, four men were arrested in north Belfast for directing terrorism, possession of firearms with intent and conspiracy to commit GBH.

DebateNI, Pages 22&23

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