Police accuse UDA of orchestrating violence in Larne
Senior officer denies PSNI unable to restrain criminal elements
PSNI assistant chief constable George Hamilton said the blame for disorder in Larne, Co Antrim, last night lay “firmly with the South East Antrim UDA”. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
One of the PSNI’s most senior officers has blamed a faction of the UDA for going on “a power trip” in Co Antrim last night, when three houses and a number of cars were badly damaged in Larne.
Members of the South East Antrim “brigade” of the UDA were involved in the violence, centred in the Sallagh Park area, Asst Chief Constable George Hamilton said, adding the trouble was not isolated.
“Tension has been mounting over recent weeks and months,” he said.
Up to 100 individuals were involved in the incidents and several people were assaulted. One police officer was treated in hospital for head injuries.
Mr Hamilton said: “The assessment was they were probably meeting in Carrickfergus to go on somewhere else. Police identified a number of possibilities, based on recent rises in tension across east Antrim. About an hour later, we had the first attack on a house in Larne and police responded to that within three minutes.”
Facing local criticism for a perceived softly-softly police response, he said the PSNI had not avoided making arrests and suggested arrests could yet follow.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Oliver McMullan said it was “worrying that police were unable to apprehend any of the mob involved in the attacks”.
Mr Hamilton hit back, saying: “Within the last week we actually arrested six people who would be connected to this grouping - they have been charged with things such as threats to kill and intimidation, criminal damage and so on,” he said.
“These groups seem to want to have some power or legitimacy within communities and it’s very important that the community themselves don’t do anything to give legitimacy to these groups. There are ways of dealing with tensions and with difficulties within communities.”
The UDA is known to be in a fragile state, with poor central control and little discipline. Many members are involved in organised crime. The South East Antrim brigade has a history of particular volatility.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams TD accused unionist party leaders of abandoning loyalist working class communities and denying them political leadership.
The violence has prompted a political storm, dominating proceedings at the Stormont Assembly today.
Ulster Unionist Assembly member Roy Beggs said: “This is a challenge to British law and order. Do those who are orchestrating and carrying out these attacks think they are above the law? This is serious, organised crime, endangering life. I would call for significant additional police resources to be dedicated to address those who are challenging British law and the justice system.
“I would also urge the local community to recognise the danger in this challenge to the rule of law and for the community to provide information to the police.”
East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the trouble was in response to police efforts against the UDA.
“I believe that this was in retaliation for police arrests over the last week and also settling scores in an attempt to stamp paramilitary authority on parts of the town,” he said.
“This cannot be allowed to happen. Larne must not drift back to the days of the past. I know that there is no desire for this to happen apart from those who wish to be able to continue their criminality without challenge.
“The police must ensure that they have the intelligence and the resources to anticipate the activities of these criminals and apprehend them.
“In turn the community must co-operate with the police to enable them to do their work. The alternative is thug rule, which will destroy those areas where it is allowed to prevail.”
Police were first called to reports of public disorder around 8.40pm last night. A PSNI spokeswoman said officers arrived on the scene within three minutes and were immediately attacked.
“I am appalled at this violence that has taken place in Larne,” said the Alliance Party representative. “There is no place for this type of public disorder on our streets.
“I am deeply concerned by the reports from the PSNI that the South East Antrim UDA were responsible for this trouble. If this is correct, it raises serious questions about the status of this paramilitary group. The chief constable [Matt Baggott] must look into this matter.
“It is disgraceful that the police were attacked when they responded to this trouble. I hope that the injured officer will be able to make a speedy recovery.
“If anybody has any information about this incident then I would urge them to contact the police.”