PSNI 'in war of attrition' with racist thugs of UVF
Police are embroiled in a war of attrition against the UVF to tackle race hate crime in Northern Ireland, a senior commander has said.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said urgent action was required to stamp out attacks on foreign nationals after a surge of incidents in recent months.
Mr Kerr defended the police operation set up in recent weeks to catch those responsible after criticism of the force over the fact it had made just three arrests in relation to the scourge.
Police have blamed the loyalist terror group for orchestrating a number of the attacks, particularly in south and east Belfast.
Mr Kerr said that in the past six months 100 searches and 40 arrests had been made by police investigating UVF activity.
He said the investigation had included a focus on robberies, extortion, animal cruelty and firearms offences. He denied suggestions members of the terror faction had an effective licence to operate freely within some loyalist communities.
"We have been running significant operations in Belfast against the UVF," he said.
He added: "We will keep up a campaign of attrition working against the UVF in Belfast, or any other paramilitary organisation who happens to be involved – including dissident groups – who are involved in criminality across Northern Ireland.
"But policing alone is not going to make this issue go away. We need long-term, sensible, joined-up thinking about a number of legacy issues in Northern Ireland which policing in the future can't resolve of itself."
Describing those involved as "thugs", Mr Kerr said the shocking number of race hate reports to police may just be the tip of the iceberg, with many victims afraid to speak out.
"Sadly, what we are seeing in both the graffiti and some of the attacks is that any form of difference at all seems to be good enough for some of these thugs to decide there is a justification for actually engaging in some of these attacks," he said. "It's very insidious, it's unacceptable, we need to wake up to it and accept that it is a problem for us and we need to do something about it quickly so we provide a long-term resolution to this issue."
He stressed the need for politically-backed resolutions as he announced the setting up of a dedicated reporting helpline for victims.
And he urged those living within the communities affected to act as the police's "eyes and ears".
Mr Kerr said it was difficult to point towards one apparent motivation for the increase in attacks, saying issues around social housing, sectarianism and political grievances all played a part.
He called on politicians and the public to help end the attacks.
"This is an issue that a new Northern Ireland is going to have to get to grips with, and it is going to have to get to grips with it quickly and it's going to have to require a joined-up, long-term response from politics, from policing and from broader civic society collectively," he said.
"This is an issue that we need to take seriously and we need to start to do something about it in providing a long-term solution to the problems of racism within Northern Irish society."
A specialist team of 10 detectives has been set up to investigate the attacks as part of the PSNI's Operation Reiner.
Police were criticised after it emerged just three people had been arrested to date, two of whom were subsequently charged.
Alliance MLA Anna Lo, who has been a victim of racism on numerous occasions, said police needed to send out a strong message that race hate crime would not be tolerated.
TIMELINE OF ATTACKS
April 21: Three young Polish nationals were savagely attacked by a 15-strong gang after being asked for a cigarette.
April 25: A 23-year-old man was stabbed in the leg in a racially motivated hate crime in south Belfast.
April 30: A Romanian man had faeces thrown at him during a "sickening" racist attack on Newtownards Road.
May 5: A Polish man had his home and car smashed in a vicious racist attack at Templemore Avenue in east Belfast.