Police to monitor children's football matches after sectarian attacks
Police are being put on stand-by for children's football matches in Belfast due to the risk of sectarian attacks, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Belfast City Council and the PSNI have drawn up a plan to prevent clashes during games involving children as young as 10 and 11.
The plan includes the PSNI being informed ahead of youth matches involving teams from nationalist and unionist areas.
It follows a sectarian hate crime in north Belfast last month during which the sectarian slogan KAT ('Kill All Taigs') was daubed on a bus used by an under-12 football team.
In response the Chief Constable - who described the incident as a "sickening hate crime" - outlined a range of measures which have been put in place to deal with potentially contentious matches involving children.
- An agreement that Belfast City Council lets police know if it believes a "contentious" match is to be played at one of its leisure centres.
- Police giving games their attention and being prepared for a quick response.
- The council encouraging visiting teams to park their team bus and other vehicles in a well-lit spot covered by CCTV.
- A dedicated member of council staff patrolling car parks and pitches while visiting teams are in the area.
- Contact details for all leisure centre and facilities managers being passed to local neighbourhood policing teams.
Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce - a former president of the Irish FA - said he was saddened such action was having to be taken by police.
In September it was claimed children playing football at a leisure centre in the west of the city were attacked by spectators and had a dog set on them in a sectarian attack.
It happened at Whiterock Leisure Centre following a football match between two under-16 teams, Ballysillan Swifts and Grosvenor Youth.
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly raised the recent graffiti attack with Chief Constable George Hamilton, outlining his concerns over the police's handling of the incident at Ballysillan Leisure Centre.
Mr Kelly said some of the children had been "very distressed" and "adults present were worried for their safety".
He said police did not phone them back until 30 minutes later and no officers attended the scene.
Mr Boyce told the Belfast Telegraph he was shocked police were having to monitor youth football games.
"As someone who has always completely condemned any form of bigotry or sectarianism, no matter from what quarter, I am very saddened that children would appear to have been brought into this situation in our country," he said.
"People who persist in this sort of behaviour hopefully will be caught and dealt with in the strongest possible manner.
"I sincerely hope we never see incidents of this type in the future.
"Throughout all our Troubles in this country football was a sport that brought people of both religions together and hopefully will continue to do so for many years to come."
In his written response to Mr Kelly, Mr Hamilton said the PSNI's call handling team deemed the sectarian incident as posing no risk to life, no crime was in action and the culprits had reportedly left the scene.
He said two police offices arrived within 10 minutes of having been tasked to attend.
However, the bus had already left the area.
Mr Hamilton said: "Police have met with local representatives and Belfast City Council to discuss the incident and those of a similar nature which have occurred across the city and are committed to working together with all stakeholders to bring those responsible to justice and prevent further incidents."