Residents in fear after bomb hoax

RESIDENTS of a small Protestant enclave in west Belfast now want security gates closed at night for the first time in 14 years, after a hoax car bomb caused a night of misery for 100 families forced from their homes.

It is understood a three-door Ford car was hijacked on Wednesday evening before its driver, a 22-year-old man, was told a bomb had been placed in the boot and was forced to drive it to the Springmartin Road outside New Barnsley police station.

The residents were evacuated around 10pm and could not return to their homes until 6am.

Independent loyalist councillor Frank McCoubrey lives with his wife and two young sons just metres from where the car was abandoned around 10pm.

He told the News Letter yesterday that he heard the man shouting to everyone that there was a bomb in the car.

"There was a lot of commotion outside, about 10 minutes later a policeman knocked at the door and asked us to leave," he said.

"We started getting the kids - Frank aged six and Kyle aged three - out, they were in hysterics.

"In an hour more than 100 houses had been evacuated, we had nowhere to go, we managed to get the community centre open but there was at least 150 there while others had gone to stay with relatives.

"It was total and utter chaos - a girl had a young baby, she only had time to grab his bottle and a nappy, we didn't know how long we were going to be out for."

Mr McCoubrey said there were five controlled explosions with the last so powerful it shook the area.

Craig Johnston had to evacuate with his disabled son, who suffers from cerebal palsy.

"We were left to our own devices. He's okay now but I guarantee he'll have an epileptic fit later because he's had no sleep and his routine had been ruined," he said.

Another resident with a five-month-old baby has been living in the area for just five weeks. She said she was terrified for her child as they fled their new home.

Mr McCoubrey said the community fears the hoax was just "a practice run" and now want the security gates closed every night to protect them.

"This community sees this as an attack on them - if there had have been a bomb in that car, it would have killed scores of women, children and pensioners," he said.

"It may have been a hoax but the disruption was real to the 100 families who went through this."

DUP councillor William Humphrey, who is chairman of the West Belfast District Policing Partnership, said if it had been a bomb it would have caused "untold devastation and death to the people in the area".

"It was a return to a situation that none of us wish to endure again," he said.

A police spokesperson confirmed the security alert was a hoax but appealed for anyone with information to contact their local station.