Northern Ireland news

One arrest after families forced to flee Ballysillan homes last month

The scene yesterday as families move out of their homes. Picture by Hugh Russell

POLICE have made one arrest almost three weeks after young families were forced from their homes in north Belfast.

The PSNI this morning said it had arrested a man on suspicion of intimidation and criminal damage relating to a number of recent incidents at Ballysillan Avenue.

Chief Inspector Kelly Moore said officers had searched a house in Ballysillan Avenue this morning and arrested a 26-year-old man.

“Local officers and Criminal Investigation Branch detectives  have been carrying out an extensive investigation into the recent incidents in this area and I would like to reassure the local community that we will do all in our power to ensure that anyone involved will be brought before the courts. No-one should feel unsafe in their own home or be subjected to acts of intimidation," she added.

A removal van was yesterday taking furniture from one house in Ballysillan Avenue, with the family vowing not to return to the recently-built property.

Six families making up around 25 people, including small children and babies, have already fled the area after coming under attack, with windows smashed and cars set alight.

It has been claimed the names of those suspected to be orchestrating the attacks are known to police.

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.

Six families have presented to the Housing Executive as homeless. Picture by Hugh Russell

Five houses, the property of Connswater Homes housing association, are currently being protected from further damage with metal shutters on the windows and doors.

Residents of another nearby property have also presented to the Housing Executive as homeless and are in emergency accommodation.

The Housing Executive said last night that "six families have presented to us from this area".

The figure could be higher as some people may be staying with friends or relatives.

While some families still hope to return to their houses - which were built around two years ago - saying they had spent thousands of pounds decorating their new homes only to be forced to flee, others have said they are too afraid to return while ringleaders of the gang organising the attacks are still at large.

The attacks started last month, with members of a well-known criminal family supported by renegade UDA members from north Belfast targeting houses in prime locations in the area.

Loyalist sources say that extended members of the crime family and their associates want to establish a power base in the area.

They have been backed by a number of loyalists from north Belfast who were expelled from the UDA and want to use members of the criminal gang to swell their numbers.

While windows of the houses were smashed and cars set alight, no permanent damage was done to the houses.

A static police patrol remained in the area yesterday, with members of one family, who returned to clear their belongings, doing so under police protection.

A police spokesman confirmed yesterday that there had been no searches or arrests in connection with the ongoing intimidation in Ballysillan.

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Picture by Hugh Russell.

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