Progress being made on paramilitary crime, says task force

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, NCA Director General Lynne Owens and Simon York, HMRC director, Fraud Investigation Service, at the briefing in Belfast
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, NCA Director General Lynne Owens and Simon York, HMRC director, Fraud Investigation Service, at the briefing in Belfast

In the past year a task force to combat paramilitary activity has made close to 100 arrests, seized £450,000 worth of criminal assets and taken a number of weapons out of commission including a machine gun and pipe bombs.

The news was delivered during the first of a series of planned updates on the progress being made in delivering the Executive Action Plan on Tackling Paramilitary Activity, Criminality and Organised Crime which was held on Tuesday.

The Paramilitary Crime Task Force – made up of the PSNI, National Crime Agency (NCA) and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) – said it had made just under 100 arrests following 200 searches which resulted in 66 people being charged or reported to the PPS in 2016/17.

Anthony Harbinson, chair of the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme Board, said: “Paramilitary activity including organised crime, community control, and violence and coercion remain a very real aspect of community life in Northern Ireland.

“We know paramilitaries exploit their own communities and others through racketeering and criminality, and they seek to exert control through violence, brutally assaulting and shooting people. They also exploit vulnerability, including younger citizens who can so easily be drawn in.

“Paramilitary activity is holding people back and it needs to be tackled in a variety of ways. The response to the challenges presented and to the harm done in communities needs to be a collective effort.”

The Executive Action Plan is being implemented in response to more than 40 recommendations made by the independent three person panel in May 2016, as part of the Fresh Start Agreement.

It was revealed that around £450,000 worth of criminal assets have been seized by the task force including drugs valued at around £230,000.

Other items taken by the task force included a machine gun, pipe bombs, ammunition, a Range Rover and a number of mobile food stalls.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “The fear and misery caused in our communities by paramilitaries is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

“Tackling this problem has always been a priority for the PSNI and the funding made available through Fresh Start now allows us to build a dedicated team of experts to deal with all forms of criminality linked to paramilitarism, including paramilitary-style assaults, extortion, intimidation, drug dealing and money laundering.

“We are now preparing to step up the pressure as we make our final preparations towards co-locating with our colleagues in the NCA and HMRC to form a new multi-disciplinary team – the Paramilitary Crime Task force – which will allow for a dedicated investigative partnership that will apply a long term and consistent focus on paramilitary groups.”