The BOSS of an off-licence chain with a string of outlets across South Belfast has said a series of possibly linked robberies is hitting the business hard in a harsh economic climate.

WineFlair, which runs four shops in South Belfast, has had its local stores targeted six times in recent months, with the two Lisburn Road outlets hit this month alone.

In the latest raid last Thursday evening, two men armed with a knife threatened staff before making off with cash, tobacco and bottles of spirits during a raid on the Lisburn Road shop next to Tesco.

The Wineflair Holyland shop, located in Agincourt Avenue, was robbed on both October 10 and 11, while the following day the off-licence on the Ormeau Road was targeted in a robbery by two men.

WineFlair Managing Director Alan McGuinness said the continuing robberies were terrifying staff and damaging the local economy at a time of unprecedented economic hardship for stores across South Belfast.

Speaking to the South Belfast News, he also called upon the police to do more to prevent the frequent attacks on his stores and neighbouring businesses in South Belfast and to  bringing the raiders to justice.

“At least half a dozen times over the past few months our South Belfast stores have been robbed, and those doing it are armed with anything from knives and crowbars to wheel braces and what could be handguns or imitation weapons,” he said.

“Such crime is forcing us to increase security at a high cost, security which can often be inconvenient for regular customers who have to wait to be let inside.

“Our staff are our first concern during these incidents, of course, and it’s upsetting when they are faced with thugs out to steal what they can. We no longer keep much money in the stores now, so now they also target cigarettes, often several thousand pounds worth in one robbery.

“Local small business in the area are already being clobbered by the recession, and this is the last thing we need. But these incidents are increasing. At the moment, South Belfast is where the majority of the robberies are occurring across our 35 northern Irish stores. The Lisburn Road was always a nice place, and has something special about it, but if these robberies keep up it only serves to damage the reputation of the neighbourhood.”

Mr McGuinness said the PSNI response to the crimewave has been lacking.

“Several times we have been able to pass on the names of suspects, but more often than not, we simply don’t hear anything back from the police. We offer CCTV footage and statements, but rarely do prosecutions happen.”

South Belfast MLA Anna Lo hit out angrily at the robbers. She said she was “appalled” at the “callous behaviour” of the blade-wielding thugs responsible for the most recent robbery, adding: “These robbers could have seriously injured somebody or worse by threatening people with a knife.”

We passed on the concerns of the WineFlair owner to the PSNI, and a spokesman told us: “Police are investigating a number of robberies which have taken place at off-licences in South Belfast.

“CCTV footage from premises and information provided by other sources form part of the on-going investigation process. Police would re-iterate their appeal for witnesses to any of the incidents to come forward,” added the spokesman.