Beleagured residents of the lower Falls say they feel helpless as hoods continue to rampage through the district in stolen cars – despite a major police operation in the area.
Residents say they feel like prisoners in their own homes as stolen vehicles hurtle through the district night after night.
The perpetrators have even posted triumphant videos on YouTube in which they show no fear of the PSNI, even ramming a police car on New Year’s Eve.
In one video from the same night, three cars are shown racing through the narrow streets around Albert Street as well as skidding dangerously along the main Falls Road. The video clearly shows the PSNI coming under attack by onlookers who batter the Land Rovers before one of the stolen cars rams into the front of it. As both vehicles remain stationary, a second stolen car, an Isuzu Trooper, also takes aim at the PSNI vehicle. In total, five police officers were injured.
The video, which has attracted over 11,000 views, mocks the PSNI who they claim are “watching the show from the sky”, presumably reference to a police helicopter.
Residents fear the recent gains of the PSNI crackdown, Operation Echinus, are now being lost.
“I had noticed a bit of an improvement but day by day you sort of see things starting to go back to the way it had been,” said one resident. “It was total madness here on New Year’s Eve and even during the day they’re at it. There was a stolen car being driven around Albert Street about 4pm in the day, how can that be allowed to happen?
“I would love to see this area return to some sort of normality but sadly some people have other ideas.”
Another resident says the PSNI are letting the culprits away with it.
“Another weekend of stolen cars and I notice the drinkers starting to gather at the street corners again,” he said.
“There were maybe about 30 of them last night at bottom end of Ross Street when a stolen car was out and four police Land Rovers drove by them and didn't move them on. On Saturday night I passed a crowd of them drinking and playing very loud music outside the Maureen Sheehan Centre.”
A third resident said things are out of control again.
“Cars are hammering up and down the street night and day, this is all happening while every night the thugs are at corners drinking and sniffing glue in full view of passers by. There are crowds standing about the street every night playing their beatboxes, drinking and torturing the people that live in the street. We can’t get living.”
Sinn Féin MLA Fra McCann, who lives in the area, said the PSNI should have acted earlier to prevent the trouble on New Year’s Eve.
“I spoke to a number of concerned residents about youths openly calling on Facebook for people to come to Albert Street on New Year’s Eve to get involved in anti-social activity,” he said. “This is a direct challenge to the ongoing operation by the PSNI.
“I believe moves could have been made to ensure this didn’t take place. I understand residents had a very difficult night on New Year’s Eve and I’ve made it known to the PSNI that people aren’t happy that it wasn’t stopped beforehand.
“What happened in Albert Street was led by people who are well-known for anti-social activity in the area, it’s a small group of people and the police or anyone with power over these people should have acted earlier and should act now to stop it happening in the future.”
The PSNI said they recovered four stolen vehicles during the night of New Year’s Eve and arrested two men – both were later released on police bail pending further enquiries.
West Belfast Area Commander, Chief Inspector Emma Bond, admitted the night was a tough one.
“Officers are working hard to make a difference in the area and I wish to commend the officers who were injured on New Year’s Eve trying to keep the area safe,” she said. “Those who put the local community at risk by their reckless actions and dangerous driving need to be caught and dealt with by the criminal justice agencies before their actions have more serious consequences. Anyone who saw anything or knows anything that might assist us to do that, please get in touch.
“If you have any issues or concerns about any criminal activity in the area, do not hesitate to contact the police.”
To date, there has been a total of 198 people arrested or reported as part of the police operation in the lower Falls. 87 have been arrested or reported in the Divis area alone. Offences include disorderly behaviour, drug offences, driving offences, theft, criminal damage and breach of bail.
There have also been 279 bail checks and police have conducted 130 foot patrols in the Divis area as well as 176 Op Habit letters issued warning people about car security. Anyone with any concerns or issues should contact police at Grosvenor Road station on 0845 600 8000 or alternatively you can email your local neighbourhood policing team who are on NPTGrosvenorRoad@psni.pnn.police.ukon 0800 555 111.”