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Police increase resources after masked men patrolled East Belfast streets

Video footage emerged on social media of scores of men concealing their identity in the Pitt Park area of east Belfast on Tuesday.

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The Police Service of Northern Ireland has stepped up resources after a group of masked men were seen patrolling the streets in East Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has stepped up resources after a group of masked men were seen patrolling the streets in East Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has stepped up resources after a group of masked men were seen patrolling the streets in East Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

Police have stepped up resources after a gathering of masked men in east Belfast described as a loyalist “show of strength”.

Scores of men wearing face coverings and hoods or hats to conceal their identity were seen in the Pitt Park area of east Belfast on Tuesday in a video circulated on social media.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said the incident in Pitt Park represented a “severe escalation” of local tensions in recent weeks.

A small number of police officers are seen in the video.

Belfast District Commander Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said as soon as police became aware of an incident in the Pitt Park area on Tuesday afternoon resources were deployed.

“We have launched an investigation and are currently reviewing evidence gathered at the time,” he said.

“Police resources in the area have been increased and will be maintained for the coming days.”

He appealed for anyone who has any information about the incident to contact them.

The PSNI has been challenged to “answer questions” about how they handled the incident.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly has questioned why police “merely shepherded” the men.

“The PSNI attended the scene while the UVF mob were still roaming the community and made minimal efforts to intervene,” he said.

“It has been reported that the mob were preparing to attack a home and instead of challenging those involved the PSNI merely shepherded the gang out of the area.”

There are also reports of families being evicted from their homes and threats made to a community centre.

“Meaningful intervention and action from PSNI in the early stages of this UVF ‘show of strength’ could have prevented this escalation of events,” Mr Kelly said.

“The PSNI has serious questions to answer over its inadequate response to the initial incident in the Pitt Park area.

“Criminal gangs have no place in our society and I will call for urgent action to be taken by the PSNI in the upcoming Policing Board meeting to end the scourge of paramilitaries in communities.”

A PSNI spokesman confirmed officers responded to reports of “suspicious masked men” in the vicinity of the Newtownards Road on Tuesday afternoon.

A spokesman said officers attended the incident and inquiries are continuing.

PA


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