Paramilitary-style assaults in Belfast plunge over past year

PSNI
PSNI

The number of paramilitary-style assaults in Belfast and part of Co Antrim have more than halved over the last year.

They are usually carried out by loyalists, who say they are on ceasefire, or dissident republican groups on members of their own community as a so-called punishment.

They typically involve a group of assailants armed with iron bars or baseball bats.

PSNI's head of Criminal Investigation Branch, Detective Chief Superintendent Tim Mairs, said: "While we welcome the reduction in paramilitary-style assaults in Belfast and in Mid and East Antrim during this period, one assault is one too many for the victim.

"Let me be clear - there is no place for what are often faceless thugs who believe they have a legitimacy to mete out their so-called justice in our communities in an attempt to seek control through fear and violence."

PSNI statistics showed 16 assaults in Belfast over the last year compared to 39 the year before.

In Mid and East Antrim they fell from 17 to seven while Antrim and Newtownabbey district saw the largest increase in numbers, from two to 10.

Alan McBride from Northern Ireland's largest victims' group, the Wave Trauma Centre, said around half of the organisation's referrals which he had been responsible for had in the past involved paramilitary intimidation.

He said: "It is a major issue and I am hoping that this (reduction) is true.

"If it has halved in Belfast that is fantastic news.

"There should be no place in society for paramilitary thugs ... in republican or loyalist areas.

"It should not be part of any society - anywhere. It is always counter-productive.

"Until very recently we were seeing a lot of people who were intimidated by paramilitaries."

Across Northern Ireland there were 64 casualties of paramilitary-style assaults during the last year compared to 76 the previous year, the PSNI said.

There were 22 victims of paramilitary-style shootings during the last 12 months compared to 26 during the previous period.

There was a decrease in the numbers of security-related deaths and bombings.

In February this year Raymond Johnston from Poleglass in West Belfast was shot dead in front of his partner and an 11-year-old girl while he cooked pancakes.

At the time police believed dissident republicans may have been responsible.

Derry City and Strabane was the only policing district to see an increase in the number of shootings over the last year, some of which were paramilitary-style attacks.

Antrim and Newtownabbey saw the largest increase in the number of paramilitary-style assaults.

There were 181 persons arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000, up from 127 during the previous 12 months.

Mr Mairs said: "Not only do these attacks have a profound effect on the victim, but also on their families and the communities where they occur.

"I want to reassure the public that PSNI officers, together with the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, will continue to investigate and disrupt the activities of paramilitaries."

He appealed for anyone with information to contact police.