No arrests as five families forced to leave homes following attacks from criminal gang

Police have increased patrols in Ballysillan Avenue following two weeks of attacks. Picture by Hugh Russell.

FIVE families have been forced from their homes in a loyalist area of north Belfast following two weeks of intimidation and attacks from a well-known criminal gang.

Around 20 people - including young children - have fled following up to ten separate attackd on properties in Ballysillan Avenue.

Vehicles have been destroyed and windows smashed in a series of attacks on the properties that were built around two years ago.

It is thought that a well known criminal drug gang is responsible.

The names of those orchestrating the attacks are known to police and to The Irish News.

Residents, too frightened to speak publicly, have told how on some occasions the attackers were not wearing masks and stood laughing as windows were smashed in their homes.

Many residents were in tears as they packed up their belongings yesterday under the watch of a static police patrol.

While the PSNI say they have stepped up patrols in the area arrests have yet to be made.

Read more: Analysis - Housing system open to abuse by criminal thugs at the expense of families  (premium)

PSNI Inspector Laura Kelly said: "We have increased patrolling in the area and are liaising with the local community, partner agencies and local representatives".

During the latest attack on Tuesday night, windows of one home were smashed and a van set alight.

Remaining families have expressed concerns that they might be targeted next and have said they have been left feeling vulnerable by the almost nightly attacks.

The families who have been forced from their houses are currently either in temporary accommodation or staying with relatives.

While some have said they would like to return to their houses others are seeking to be rehoused elsewhere over fears of further attacks.

It is believed that the criminals behind the attacks have previously had connections to the LVF.

They are thought to be attempting to drive the families from their homes in the hope that the houses will then be allocated them.

Jacqueline Locke Chief Executive of Connswater Homes, the housing assocication responsible for the properties, said: "Over the last two weeks there have been a number of incidents involving damage to properties and vehicles in the Ballysillan Avenue area.

"These incidents are currently the subject of a PSNI investigation.

"My main concern is for the safety of our tenants and their families and those impacted are currently being rehoused by the Housing Executive".

Fiona Ferguson of People Before Profit has been working with some of the families forced to move into emergency accommodation.

She said they are "frightened and fearful" for the future.

"Many have small children who will be going back to school in a few weeks. They have no idea when or where they will be permanently housed and that's adding to their anxiety.

"Authorities clearly need to do more to protect remaining residents who are left wondering if they'll be targeted next and assist those who feel too frightened to stay."

Read more: Analysis - Housing system open to abuse by criminal thugs at the expense of families  (premium)

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