Friday 24 January 2020

Teen gang clashes organised through social media

Deborah McAlesse

Police have increased their presence in east Belfast as sectarian tensions escalated following a night of street violence between Protestant and Catholic youths.

Two petrol bombs were thrown during clashes between rival factions in a series of violent incidents on Saturday night.

Around 40 people, aged in their late teens to early 20s, were involved in the trouble.

Police suspect the violence may have been orchestrated through social media sites.

One young family was left terrified after the windows of their house on the Albertbridge Road were smashed with snooker and golf balls during the trouble.

Clare O'Donnell (28) said her children, aged two and eight, were playing in the front room of the house when missiles were thrown at their windows.

She told UTV the three of them were forced to hide in an upstairs bedroom.

"It was men who came into my garden shouting 'UVF'. I don't know why or what they thought they would achieve, but they left me and my children terrified. It was horrendous," she said. "This has been going on for some time and the police know where the trouble is going to happen but nothing is done. It can't be allowed to go on, someone has to put a stop to it. Everyone should be safe in their own home."

Rival factions of youths clashed during a series of incidents in the Castlereagh Street, Mountpottinger Road, Woodstock Link and Albertbridge Road areas.

As trouble escalated two petrol bombs were thrown.

PSNI Superintendent Mark McEwan said yesterday that police were unable to say yet if the violence was organised by any group. But he added that any orchestration would be through social media.

He added: "We had resources at the scene and working with community representatives we were able to deal with the disorder.

"We will have a proactive policing operation in place because we are taking this seriously and I would appeal for anyone with information to come forward. Parents are reminded to ensure they know the whereabouts of their children as anyone caught engaging in disorder or criminal damage is likely to end up with a criminal record."

From April 15 there have been 48 arrests in interfaces in east Belfast for criminal damage and other public order related offences.

Sinn Féin councillor for the area Niall Ó Donnghaile said attacks from either side of the interface needed to be condemned.

"People intent on causing trouble need to stay away from this area and let the residents on both sides live in peace.

"We have had a relatively quiet summer and we don't want to see anything that raises community tensions in the area," he said.

Mr Ó Donnghaile said he believed there was a degree of orchestration around these attacks.

"This is a worrying development and I would call on all leaders in east Belfast to work to ensure that the incidents witnessed here last night are not repeated," he added.

Belfast Telegraph

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