The leader of the Progressive Unionist Party has distanced the UVF from a weapons find in Castlereagh following speculation about the origin of the modern pistols.
Sixteen semi-automatic handguns and over 800 rounds of ammunition were discovered on the Manse Road on Friday evening in what police have described as their “largest find” in recent years.
The weapons were seized from a hole in the ground on land owned by the National Trust at Lisnabreeny Walk, adjacent to integrated secondary school Lagan College.
Detective Superintendent Sean Wright, from the PSNI’s serious crime branch, said the weapons haul was significant and, “has undoubtedly thwarted the attempts of criminals to inflict death, injury and misery on the community.
“Police are determined to work to protect communities from these threats and I would appeal to anyone who noticed any suspicious activity in the area of Glen Cregagh Road at the junction with Manse Road, known locally as Cregagh Glen, Castlereagh to contact them”.
Parts of the Manse Road were closed overnight as detectives investigated the scene in the Lisnabreeny estate. The weapons and munitions were then taken to a secure location for further forensic examinations.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Billy Hutchinson said there was “no evidence” to suggest loyalists had anything to do with the find.
Mr Hutchinson said: “I think people need to be very careful that they don’t look to speculation.
“As we know, loyalists are involved in decommissioning – but this is a real, not like republicans.”
He said he would be “very careful about what we call loyalist paramilitaries”, asking, “Is this a group of criminals?”
Mr Hutchinson called on the police to provide more information about the guns, such as how long they believed them to have been stored at the site, and said: “Things like this happen all the time.”
Asked if he condemned the guns being left there, Mr Hutchinson said: “Well I mean I think it’s like anything else, people shouldn’t be leaving guns where children can get their hands on them.
“They shouldn’t have left them. If they were looking rid of them they should have called somebody. We have a process that we need to follow. The way forward is unarmed negotiation. There is a political process which people want.”
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, who lives near to where the guns were found, congratulated the police on the seizure.
“Clearly those who held them, you must assume, have a criminal if not murderous intent. It’s cynical and just wrong to store them so close to the school because you have no control over what happens. What if school kids discover them? What if the police come across them as they’re being moved?”
South Belfast DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt said the discovery was shocking, given the generally peaceful nature of the area.
“Lisnabreeny House is owned by the National Trust and is in an area where many people walk on a daily basis, and only a short distance from Lagan College,” Mr Spratt said.
“It is a very worrying development that these arms have been found there.
“I would urge anyone who noticed any suspicious activity or has any information to pass it on to the PSNI immediately.”
Alliance Castlereagh councillor Geraldine Rice also praised the police’s efforts: “The police have ensured that the criminals who owned these weapons will not be able to use them to cause unknown damage to the community.”