Belfast Telegraph

West Belfast attack: We've no back up, we're sitting ducks, say PSNI officers

By Deborah McAleese

Rank and file PSNI officers warned last night that a lack of resources has left them like "sitting ducks" while policing high threat areas.

They claimed that their two colleagues who miraculously escaped death after they came under dissident republican gunfire in west Belfast on Thursday night had been left "dangerously exposed".

One officer said it was "incredible" that less than 24 hours after the attack, a single police crew was back sitting alone at the scene. Up to eight shots were fired from a heavy calibre gun at a police patrol car parked in Rossnareen Avenue shortly before 7pm on Thursday.

It is understood that an AK47 may have been used in the attack, which has been blamed on dissident republicans.

The car's armour-plating and bullet-proof glass stopped the officers from being seriously injured or killed.

The officers were in the area as part of a policing operation related to the attempted murder of a man last week, who was shot in the head outside his home.

A police patrol car has been outside the man's empty home since he was shot.

PSNI Belfast Commander Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw said police would review what had happened on Thursday night to see what lessons they could learn.

"Paramount to me is the safety of my officers, and we review our procedures, tactics and patrolling patterns all the time, and we're always learning," he said.

"I'm thankful that the protection offered by the patrol vehicles and the equipment we provide has given some measure of safety, but we will always keep that under review and work with officers to make sure we do everything to keep them safe."

However, officers told the Belfast Telegraph they have been warning for many months about the lack of resources, particularly in areas where the terrorist threat is high.

"We are being left dangerously exposed," one officer said.

"We just don't have the resources or officer numbers needed to police in some areas. The two officers were very lucky to have walked away from that attack on Thursday.

"They were like sitting ducks, to be honest. In fact, that's the way a lot of us feel. I'm finding it incredible that a single patrol is back up there."

Another added: "Officers in Belfast, especially in west and north, where we have come under attack on previous occasions, have been saying until they are blue in the face that there's not enough resources, that an officer is going to be seriously injured or killed.

"When officers in west Belfast call for assistance, there are no officers to come. Resources are so short that officers are holding off going to calls for help from the public until more officers are available. Resources are low all the time."

Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said he agreed with officers' concerns over resources.

"We have limited resources that are spread very thinly. When you are running so thin on the ground with police numbers, it's a perfect opportunity for terrorists all the time," said Mr Lindsay.

He added: "This sort of thing has been happening for some time. It is just by the grace of God that nobody has died. The attacks are easier done because so few officers are on the ground and it also makes it easier for them to get away."

Detectives believe the Thursday night attackers made off in a BMW car that had been waiting nearby at Tullagh Park.

The car, which was fitted with a false Republic of Ireland registration plate, was later found abandoned and on fire at Cluain Mor Drive in the Beechmount area.

Detectives appeal over shooting

Detectives investigating the attempted murder of police in west Belfast appealed for help in tracking the movements of the car used by the would-be killers.

Detective Chief Inspector Richard Campbell, said: "We believe the gunman travelled to and from the scene in a black BMW 3 Series bearing the false number plate 05 C 24774. This vehicle was later found on fire in Cluain Mor Drive.

"We now know that this car had been reported stolen from an address in Ashbourne in county Meath on 7th September 2015. The genuine registration of this vehicle is 05 LH 5364.

"It is critical to our investigation that we gather as much information as possible about the movements of the BMW between the time it was stolen and it being used in Thursday’s gun attack.

"I am appealing to residents on both sides of the border - did you see this vehicle at any time after September 7th? Can you help us trace the movements of the vehicle either in the Republic of Ireland or as it made its way north across the border and into Northern Ireland? Do you know have any information to assist this investigation? Any detail, no matter how small, could be important.

"We have established that the owner of the stolen vehicle and the individual whose car registration was duplicated on the false plates are both entirely innocent of any involvement in this heinous act and they have been excluded from our enquiries.

"Anyone with information about the movements of the car can contact the PSNI from Northern Ireland by calling 101, or from the Republic of Ireland by calling 048 9065222 and asking for Major Investigation Team detectives at Ladas Drive.

2We are working closely with our colleagues in An Garda Síochána and callers in the Republic of Ireland can also give information to officers at Ashbourne Garda Station, Garda District HQ, County Meath on 01 801 0600 or via the Garda confidential number 1-800-666-111."

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