Police condemn 'thugs' behind poster threat
Paramilitaries in a Bangor estate have issued a chilling warning to anyone engaging in crime that they will be "severely dealt with".
The UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando have joined forces to publish a poster which they claim is in response to community demand after a spate of crimes in the Kilcooley estate.
The poster states that the organisations have been approached by residents "seeking our support to end this blight", and asks anyone with information to contact their "local community representatives".
Kilcooley Community Development manager Mark Gordon blamed a lack of confidence in the PSNI for the situation.
He said: "The Kilcooley community has not seen this level of crime and targeting of vulnerable pensioners for some time and it is no surprise that paramilitary groups have been approached by concerned residents given the low level of confidence in the police force to tackle this blight."
Asked whether the emergence of a strong paramilitary stance was a worry for the community, Mr Gordon said: "It doesn't worry me, coming from a restorative justice point of view we still support the police but when the police aren't able to catch these people what alternative do the community have?"
The posters have emerged after a series of crimes and burglaries in the area most notably the robbery of an 89-year-old pensioner by five men wearing balaclavas in his home in the Ballyhalbert Gardens area of Kilcooley.
The men told the pensioner that they were from a paramilitary organisation helping the police look for drugs before pushing him and making off with a substantial amount of money.
Jim Rea, of the restorative justice group North Down Alternatives, said that the estate was on tenterhooks following the attacks. "When the crimes are this serious, I can understand the feeling from the community and their need for action," he said.
"Everyone is surmising who might be responsible to the point where there have even been young people handing themselves into police to present their alibis and clear up any allegations.
"We would hope that the local community would come to ourselves with concerns but I can also see that from a community point of view these posters may be a sign of reassurance and a means of getting the message out that these crimes will not be tolerated."
Area Commander Chief Inspector Michael McDonald said vigilantism in any form would not be tolerated. "This small group of individuals do not represent the people in Kilcooley and they certainly do not represent justice.
"The notion that these people have the support of residents in doling out threats is ludicrous. This is a minority of individuals attempting to stake claim to Kilcooley and seeking to demonstrate some kind of power or influence in the area when the reality is they have none.
"The PSNI is the only legitimate police service in Northern Ireland. We are the ones tasked by local people to protect them. We are the ones held accountable by them. And we are proud to serve them.
"Those who hide behind these posters have no authority in Kilcooley. Despite their claims to want to 'protect' the community, they are nothing more than thugs seeking to intimidate residents and generate fear.
"Local police are investigating these posters and the people behind them. We will actively seek to prosecute anyone found to be making threats of violence. I know my officers have the support of the people in Kilcooley in this work and I encourage anyone with information to get in touch with us."
North Down mayor Councillor Andrew Muir said: "Whilst all crimes, including burglaries and robberies against the elderly are reprehensible, there is no place in our society for vigilante activity from illegal paramilitary organisations seeking to intimidate and control local communities."
"I condemn this attempt to undermine the rule of law without hesitation and hope all other civic leaders will join me in stating that the only people who should be investigating criminal activity and seeking to apprehend alleged offenders are the Police Service of Northern Ireland."
Councillor Brian Wilson said a number of residents had raised the issue of the posters with him. "They felt intimidated and were worried that the paramilitaries were using recent dreadful assaults on the elderly as an excuse to impose their law on the estate.
"There can be only one policing body and I would therefore appeal to residents to ignore the posters and give their full support to the PSNI. That is the only way future attacks can be prevented."
DUP MLA Peter Weir added his voice to the condemnation: “Whilst the robbery of a vulnerable 89 year old pensioner in his own home is a despicable and cowardly act, and the perpetrators of that crime should face the full weight of the law, what is unacceptable in this situation is that people take the law into their own hands.
"The community is understandably outraged and as am I, but vigilantism and thuggery does not serve the community. Two wrongs do not make a right.”
“My heart goes out to this elderly man. If anyone saw anything suspicious in the Ballyhalbert Gardens area or has any information on this disgraceful act, indeed any other crime, they should report it to the PSNI immediately so that they can bring those responsible before the courts to receive rightful and just punishment.
"The PSNI have encouraged witnesses, or anyone with any information, to get in contact them either at Bangor police station or by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where they can give information anonymously."