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PSNI U-turn over car crime team ‘will save lives’

A man whose wife and young son were killed by joyriders believes a U-turn by the PSNI over plans to scrap a dedicated car crime team will save lives.

Police confirmed yesterday that the Auto-Crime Team will be retained until at least the end of the year — a week after announcing plans to axe the specialist unit.

Last night relatives of people killed through car crime welcomed the move, and hit out at the PSNI for axing the ACT before consulting with the community.

The west Belfast-based unit was set up to tackle car crime following the death of 15-year-old Debbie McComb, mowed down by a joyrider on the Springfield Road eight years ago.

It includes nine officers based at Dunmurry police station.

But last week it emerged the PSNI planned to scrap the team so that more officers could be put on the beat to tackle new priority areas such as drugs and anti-social behaviour.

The decision has now been reversed, and the team will be retained until at least December 31, allowing time for further discussion with the community. Kevin Fitzpatrick, whose wife Dana and eight-year-old son, also called Kevin, were killed by so-called death drivers on the Antrim Road 10 years ago said axing the unit will cost lives.

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“It seems that the PSNI never fully thought through what they were doing,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “I think now they realise they made a big mistake.

“They looked at these nine officers and thought they could be deployed elsewhere, not realising how successful the team has been.”

The team has been credited with helping to reduce vehicle-related crime by 75% in the past eight years.

Victims group Families Bereaved Through Car Crime, which heavily criticised the original decision, also welcomed the turn-around.

Margaret Muir helped to found the group after her brother Patrick Hanna was knocked down and killed by a stolen car in 1999.

Speaking about the decision, she said: “It’s not happiness, it’s a sense of relief. If they had taken the Auto Crime Team away, car crime would have shot through the roof and we would have had another death.”

Earlier this week Gerry Adams led a delegation of politicians and representatives from the West Belfast Community Safety Forum for a meeting with senior PSNI officers.

Mr Adams said the decision to retain the Auto-Crime Team was a welcome development.

“It is evidence of the merits of the PSNI and community groups engaging on policing issues,” he said.

A PSNI spokesperson said the delay would enable a “fuller review of the role of this unit”.

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