School locked down after gang of masked men assembled in Newtownards town

Masked men in Newtownards. Credit: Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph

Staff reporter

A school had to be locked down after masked men gathered in Newtownards town centre.

The gang of up to 30 men gathered in the town centre before moving towards houses in Weavers Grange.

Regent House Grammar School is situated about 300 yards away.

Headmaster Michael Carville said the school liaised with the police and decided to close the gates.

It’s understood that a nearby nursery may have been forced to take action to protect children.

Police attempted to disperse the masked gang as they approached the Weavers Grange housing estate.

A helicopter was seen circling over the area and police units are involved.

A PSNI officer said: “A number of men, some of whom were masked were noted by police outside Newtownards court house this morning.

“Police officers present gathered evidence and enquiries are ongoing.”

The incident occurred against the back drop of a UDA feud that is ongoing in the Co Down area between two drug gangs.

North Down MLA Stephen Dunne said: “There is absolutely no place for this type of activity on our streets. This violence and destruction, which is endangering lives is totally unrepresentative of our local Community, and the area which we are proud to call home.

“Violence and criminality in whatever form it takes, is and always has been wrong and must be unequivocally condemned. I would appeal for calm and urge people to end this violence and criminal behaviour immediately. Those responsible must be brought to justice.

The PSNI is appealing for information, and I would encourage anyone to contact the PSNI to assist with their ongoing enquiries.”

In a statement, Ards and North Down District Commander Superintendent Johnston McDowell thanked the local community for their ongoing patience and support as officers deal with the drug feud in the area.

He said to date 11 homes across Newtownards, Bangor, Ballywalter, and Donaghadee have been subject to attack by rival factions previously linked to the UDA.

These have included petrol bomb attacks, windows being smashed with hammers and bricks, and on one occasion a pipe bomb was thrown at a property while the occupants, including four children, were inside.

Superintendent McDowell added: “We have a robust policing operation in place to both investigate these attacks, and deter further instances of violence and damage to homes.

"We have carried out a number of targeted search operations and have arrested five men, two of whom have been charged with offences, including arson with intent to endanger life, and have appeared in court.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank our local community who have already been of great assistance to us providing information, both directly to police and via the Crimestoppers charity, this has allowed us to identify individuals involved in this violent criminality and progress our investigations.

"Their information has been vital and further searches and arrests will come.

“I’m aware there has been some unhelpful social media speculation which has added to community concerns. Police will continue to provide regular updates to the community through our social media feeds and through engagement with local elected representatives.”

Superintendent McDowell added that the attacks were “completely unacceptable, incredibly reckless and place our communities at grave risk."

He added: “We are intent on bringing them to a complete stop, arresting the perpetrators and placing them before the courts.

“I want to urge residents of our District to remain vigilant and to report anything that gives rise to concern to us so we can take the appropriate action.

"Local people will continue to see an increased police presence in the coming days as we maintain pressure on these criminals and work to thwart their efforts to wreak havoc in our communities.

“I would also pay tribute to the dedicated efforts of our local police officers who are working day and night to keep the people of Ards and North Down safe.”