Belfast Telegraph

Revealed: Northern Ireland district with highest murder rate

 

By Ciaran Barnes

With its rows of two-storey terraced houses, at first glance it could pass for one of a gentrified place-to-be.

But beneath this pleasant outward appearance, and seemingly picturesque location on the edge of the Brookvale area of north Belfast could hides a much darker reality.

The district, sandwiched between the Antrim and Cliftonville Roads, is officially the most dangerous in Northern Ireland.

Five non-paramilitary murders have taken place across four of its nine streets since 2003 - that is a rate of one every three years, a frightening statistic that is unmatched here.

In addition, three more deaths were caused by car thieves, including that of a child. There has also been a number of violent sex attacks.

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David Barnes

The most recent killing occurred last Wednesday when the bloodied body of an as yet unidentified Lithuanian male was discovered at the bottom of Orient Gardens.

Two foreign nationals questioned about the murder have since been released on police bail. Orient Gardens is the only street in the Brookvale area that remains largely residential. The overwhelming majority of the 1920s red brick homes in the eight others have been converted into flats.

The occupants of these properties range from immigrants, many of whom have little English, to young males forced out of other areas amid claims of anti-social behaviour, and people battling addictions.

Manus Maguire, who runs the Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum, says a combination of social and economic problems are responsible for Brookvale's spiralling crime rate.

"The area, described in Government reports as Waterworks 2, is officially the most deprived area in Belfast, and the second most deprived in the whole of the north," he explained.

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George Morrison

"Landlords are a big problem, especially those that convert houses into flats. They are moving people in with no sense of the local community, and they are struggling to integrate."

The murder of the Lithuanian man on Orient Gardens is a stark example of this growing problem.

His body was discovered outside a block of three flats that was once a two-storey family home. Long-term residents had opposed its conversion, but their campaign was rejected by planners.

Neighbours do not know the name of the victim, who detectives believe lay on the street for two hours before being discovered.

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Roseanna Lonergan

There is speculation that he had been staying on the second floor of the property that he was found outside, and which was being advertised for rent online.

"People not knowing who lives next door is common," added Mr Maguire.

"We noticed a broken window in a property recently and when we called there was a young foreign family inside who didn't know anyone, spoke little English and had no idea about the community centre and services we offer."

Locals who spoke to reporters in the aftermath of last Wednesday's murder told similar tales, with one woman revealing: "There's lots of people renting about here you wouldn't know.

"I feel heartbroken for the poor man's family."

But it is not all despair, with Mr Maguire explaining how objections from residents had blocked yet another house-to-multiple-flat conversion on Eia Street.

It's united community actions like this that both he and settled residents hope will transform Brookvale into a desirable place to live once again.

The four other people murdered in the area since 2003 included Polish national Piotr Rafacz (29), who was beaten to death in an apartment on Brookhill Avenue in 2009. The same year Geordie Morrison (29) had his throat cut as he walked along the same street.

In January 2005 Roseanna Lonergan (45) was beaten to death in an apartment at Brookville Court, which backs onto Brookhill Avenue.

Two years earlier David 'Digger' Barnes (39) was shot dead in a flat on the junction of Brookhill Avenue and Brookvale Avenue.

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph

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