Dissident threat a factor in major police operation

Police vehicle checkpoints across parts of Belfast.
Police vehicle checkpoints across parts of Belfast.

More than 1,600 vehicle checkpoints were set up around Belfast city centre over the Christmas period the PSNI has revealed.

The “severe” threat posed by dissident republicans was a major concern during the seven-week police operation.

A total of 15,234 vehicles were stopped by officers with 1,598 searched.

During the festive initiative – carried out between November 25 and January 15 – officers patrolled the city on bicycles and foot as well as in cars and Land Rovers.

According to police figures, from December 2, 2013 to January 5, 2014 there were: 24 people arrested (13 for theft, with the remainder relating to a range of other offences); 18 people reported to the Public Prosecution Service; 47 fixed penalty notices issued; 236 motorists given advice; and 1,495 business visits conducted.

Dissident republicans were active over the period with a failed car bomb attack on the Victoria Square shopping centre, a bomb in a holdall exploding close to the MAC theatre and a man setting himself on fire during a failed incendiary-type attack on a shop in the Corn Market area of the city.

A police spokesman said: “Each year in Belfast city centre, over the festive period, police enhance visibility to assist in the process of deterring crime and enhancing community safety.

“In November 2013, following an incident where a car bomb was left on Victoria Street, police implemented an operation to deter further attacks of this nature on the city centre.

“Vehicle checkpoints were conducted in hot spot areas to maintain community safety.”

The spokesman added: “In the coming months police will continue to use a variety of deployment techniques to deter crime and criminal activity and enhance security.”

Commenting on the festive policing operation, south Belfast Chief Inspector Gabriel Moran said: “I would like to thank everyone who took on board the advice that was given out prior to Christmas to remain vigilant.

“Although there were large numbers of people visiting the city during the day and in the evenings to shop and socialise, we had a relatively low number of arrests for offences such as disorderly behaviour.”