Young teens meeting for Belfast fights

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Children as young as 12 are meeting up in crowds as large as 80 in north Belfast for prearranged fights, police have said.

Officers have interrupted a number of these fights over the last two weekends but are now appealing for the community for information as it is believed another fight is being planned to take place this weekend.

The fights are being planned, often in code, on social networking websites with the locations not revealed until the last minute.

Locations where fights have been arranged for include the Cliftonville Road, the Waterworks on the Antrim Road and the Limestone Road.

The age of the children involved is typically between 14 to 16 but last weekend, a 12 year old was among the spectators gathering at interfaces.

Sergeant Brian Caskey, York Road, Neighbourhood Policing Team said crowds of 60-80 teenagers are gathering for the fights and that police are aware of offensive weapons such as knifes and hammers being carried by some.

He stressed the danger of the situation and warned that it is an offence to carry a weapon.

“It is an offence to possess an article which is sharply pointed (except a folding pocket-knife) in a public place unless it is for use at work, for religious reasons, or as part of a national costume,” he said.

“The maximum penalty for such an offence is imprisonment of up to six months and/or a fine of £5000 on summary conviction or two years on conviction on indictment.

“A person who carries an offensive weapon in public can be jailed for up to six months on summary conviction or four years on indictment.”

Sergeant Caskey continued: “The fact is that carrying a weapon can have disastrous results not only for the victim but for the offender who will have to deal with the burden of a criminal conviction throughout the rest of their lives.

“Those who might consider carrying such a weapon should be aware that local police will carry out searches and that you stand a strong chance of getting caught.

“Young people should stop and think of the consequences of their actions both in terms of causing serious injury to others or themselves, and in committing a criminal offence which puts their future prospects in jeopardy when they be brought before the courts and convicted of a serious criminal offence.”

Sergeant Caskey said the reason for the fights is still being investigated, but that it is not believed to be sectarian.

The young people involved are coming from all over north Belfast and don’t always know each other. Locals schools have been contacted.

No arrests have been made and police are not aware of any injuries sustained.

Community workers Harry Smith from Tigers Bay and Gerard O’Reilly from the New Lodge are working together and with police to stop the fights.

Mr O’Reilly pointed out that the youngsters are not dressed down for a riot, but rather dressed up.

He said the girls are often egging on the boys.

Mr Smith said he felt it was time for the issue of violence being organised on social networking website to be addressed, and added: “Parents need to take responsibility regarding the whereabouts of their children and in supervising access to social networking sites.

“There are fears that should this behaviour continue that a young person may loose their life. This would have a devastating impact on communities.”

Any member of the public who feels they can assist the police, who notice any unusual activity in the area or who has any information to contact police at York Road Police Station on 0845 600 8000. Or, if someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details, they can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111.