Northern Ireland news

Children `risking criminal convictions' with mass anti-social gatherings across Belfast

Falls park west Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

CHILDREN in their early teens have been warned they are risking "criminal convictions" with mass anti-social gatherings across Belfast.

Around 150 youths caused mayhem in west Belfast at the weekend when drank alcohol and attacked cars and police officers over several hours after gathering at Falls Park.

Identified as being mostly made up of "young teenagers", police and politicians have called on parents to step in and and stop the cycle of anti-social behaviour.

Inspector McCullough said police received reports from 5.10pm "that approximately 150 youths had gathered in the Park, drinking alcohol and throwing stones and bottles at passing motorists".

"Police responded and came under attack from youths who had remained in the area."

Read More: Twelve hours of anti-social mayhem leaves trail of destruction across west Belfast

PSNI said the young people eventually dispersed and there were "no reports of any damage to any vehicles", however, bottles had also been thrown at nearby commercial premises, damaging a window.

Describing it as "reckless behaviour", the inspector said "the local community in the Falls area has a right to live in peace, and to enjoy their homes".

"They do not deserve to have to tolerate this type of anti-social behaviour... The community needs parents and guardians to take responsibility for their young people."

Some of the minors involved are known to have travelled to the area from elsewhere - both within the city and surrounding areas.

The gatherings, which have been troubling police, councils and communities, tend to rotate following high-profile trouble, due to the increased likelihood of PNSI patrols targetting the area afterwards.

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said "the problem moves around, it's not just Falls Park, it's not just west Belfast, other parts of Belfast are experiencing it as well".

"It's a problem across the city and we have to support police and community leaders, youth leaders and parents must do our bit to know where our children are."

Inspector McCullough also called on parents across the city to "know where your children are, what they are doing, and talk to them about the danger of getting caught up in the moment and the possible outcomes they could face if they are found committing any offence".

"We understand the effect that anti-social behaviour can have on communities and we are committed to finding solutions to address it, however, these solutions cannot be found by police alone.

"We will work together with partners in education, youth providers, social services and the local community to address the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour."

The inspector stressed that youths must realise "the consequences of being arrested for anti-social behaviour".

"Think about the impact of getting a criminal conviction, which could damage opportunities to travel, study or get the job you want.

“It is essential that all parents and guardians know where their young people are gathering, to ensure they are not getting involved in anti-social behaviour, causing distress to local residents.

"It's not about spoiling fun, this is about keeping people safe."

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