'Shooting' victims named on Facebook before attacks
Three of the five people shot in the last month in punishment-style attacks were named on a Facebook page before they were targeted.
Photographs of the young men, along with derogatory nicknames and allegations that they had been involved in named crimes, were also posted on the page. Updates on when named individuals were shot have also been posted on the page.
These posts have attracted hundreds of sinister comments, which include further accusations against those that have been named. Some comments even appear to celebrate that those named have been shot, and photographs of the injuries meted out by the gunmen have also been posted to the page.
PSNI Belfast commander, Chief Superintendent Chris Noble, confirmed that detectives are looking into the Facebook page but said they are not linking it to the shootings at this stage.
He has urged community leaders to speak out and condemn the attacks and said, as a police officer, he felt a lingering feeling by some that such punishment shootings are acceptable needs to be tackled.
SDLP councillor Brian Heading said the Facebook page should be removed and urged the community to condemn it.
"It is easy to put a name up on a website and accuse someone without evidence," he said. "Facebook should close this site down and anyone with any information about it should give it to police. This is not a way to deal with some of the issues of criminality. It is detrimental to community policing and needs to be challenged by the community."
Chief Supt Noble revealed at a press conference yesterday that the number of punishment attacks in west Belfast has doubled in the last year despite an overall drop in numbers across the city.
He made the revelation as he reacted to the recent incidents, and confirmed the shooting of a 26-year-old man on Tuesday night was by appointment.
"By appointment simply means if there has been intimidation of people to turn up. No-one goes to these incidents willingly," he said.
"It's a real challenge for us to investigate these, and this is not something that we can solve by having many more police in the area. It's about the community working with police to actually bring to justice people who are involved in these. And there are members of the community today who I have no doubt have bits of information that they haven't yet provided to police. My plea is please give us that information.
"We have seen over the last year in west Belfast a lift in these types of incidents and it is people who are clearly doing it for their own very selfish ends, trying to exercise control in the community and in some ways trying to pretend that they are a police service. They are not, the police service in west Belfast is the Police Service of Northern Ireland."
A PSNI spokesperson confirmed that detectives are aware of the Facebook posts.
"We are aware of social media posts that have made serious allegations against a number of individuals in the west Belfast area," she said.
"While we are not linking the posts to recent shootings at this stage we will look at all available information and will follow all possible lines of enquiry. I would like to remind everyone that uses social mediato be mindful of the content of any material they post online.
"The PSNI are committed to working in partnership with local communities to address any issues or concerns and it is vital that anyone with information on any illegal activity contacts their local police or indeed a community representative who can pass the information to police so that the matter can be fully investigated by police officers and anyone who may have acted illegally can be dealt with accordingly."