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Man (40) arrested in Roma exploitation probe as Jamie Bryson says he also met police over online claims

The Romanian Roma Community Association of Northern Ireland, and right, Belfast Trust documents obtained by The Irish News
Brendan Hughes

THE PSNI has arrested a 40-year-old man in an investigation into claims of exploitation and intimidation of south Belfast's Roma community.

It comes as loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson says he met police after they approached him seeking information for their probe.

Police confirmed in August they were investigating after the prominent loyalist posted a series of anonymous claims online about the alleged exploitation.

Some weeks later The Irish News revealed a tranche of Belfast Trust correspondence dating back months which revealed the scale of concerns raised by health chiefs.

Whistleblowers had contacted the Belfast trust alleging that an organisation called the Romanian Roma Community Association of Northern Ireland (RRCANI) was charging Roma "large sums of money" for benefits advice – and "fraudulently filling out benefits applications without their consent".

In response, the trust moved its Early Years services in May from RRCANI's offices in the Holylands area to another venue, citing "concerns regarding their governance, exploitation and community control".

RRCANI strongly denies the allegations.

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Following the online claims, intimidating posters appeared on walls in south Belfast which named and made false allegations about two Early Years staff, who worked closely with vulnerable members of the Roma community. The incident was reported to police.

In a statement yesterday, the PSNI confirmed a man was arrested on Friday and later released on bail pending further enquiries.

"Criminal Investigation Branch officers in Belfast are continuing to investigate the contents of a number of social media posts and a number of posters which had been erected in public areas in South Belfast in August," a police spokeswoman said.

"On October 26, police arrested a 40-year-old male in south Belfast in connection with this investigation. He was later released on police bail pending further enquiries."

Mr Bryson said police contacted him about the online posts alleging exploitation, and he met with them earlier this month.

He said he agreed to meet officers "in the presence of a local councillor and community representative who were there as witnesses at my request".

"I advised that as this related to journalistic material I would not be prepared to reveal the identity of my source and unfortunately therefore could not assist further," he said.

The documents obtained last month by The Irish News revealed that Belfast Trust officials brought the claims to the PSNI's Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit back in May.

The PSNI said this information was "addressed through the appropriate channels", and "no evidence of fraud or people trafficking was identified and no complaints have been made".

DUP South Belfast MP Emma Little-Pengelly, Green Party MLA Clare Bailey and SDLP MLA Claire Hanna have voiced their concerns over the exploitation claims.

How The Irish News revealed the scale of Belfast health trust's concerns over alleged exploitation of south Belfast's Roma community

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