Number of hoax bomb alerts almost double

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HOAX bomb alerts in Ulster have almost doubled over the last year, the News Letter has learned.

Figures released via a Freedom of Information request show that between April 1, 2008, and March 31 this year, 426 "bomb hoax-related crimes" were recorded.

Such crimes include placing, conspiring to place or attempting to place an article causing a bomb hoax, dispatching or conspiring to dispatch an article causing a hoax, and communicating false information causing a hoax.

Between the same period in 2007/2008, 222 such crimes were recorded.

Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt said that those responsible for planting the devices were wasting the time and resources of the PSNI, and needed to stop immediately.

"Every bomb hoax is treated as the real thing," said the DUP representative.

"Police resources are at times very scarce and they are then taken away from dealing with all the crime and issues that need to be dealt with."

Fermanagh is one area which has been targeted in hoax incidents on a number of occasions this year.

In April, a security operation got under way after telephone calls were made to a Belfast newsroom purporting to be the Real IRA claiming that devices had been left in the border area.

The Wattlebridge Road near Newtownbutler had to be closed to traffic for two days as Army technical officers examined a beer keg found in a hedgerow, which was later declared an elaborate hoax.

The town of Lisnaskea was also targeted when a suspicious bag was place outside public toilets.

At the time, police had condemned the incidents as the "irresponsible actions of criminals".

Polling stations were also targeted in hoax alerts in last month's European elections.

Suspect objects were found close to Lurgan Model Primary School at Brownlow Terrace and Tannaghmore Primary School in Co Armagh on June 4.