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Belfast school evacuated after security alert on first day of term

Pupils from St Paul's Primary School in Mica Drive, Beechmount were evacuated after a suspect package was found in a nearby alley. Picture by Mal McCann
Gareth McKeown

A HOAX security alert which forced the evacuation of a west Belfast primary school has been described as a "very bad day for the local community".

On Tuesday, the first morning back after the summer holidays pupils and staff at St Paul's Primary School had to be evacuated along with residents after a 'suspect package' was discovered by bin men in an alleyway off Beechmount Crescent after 9am.

It is believed that many school children use the alley as a walkway to school and may have passed the package on their morning walk to school.

Pupils were moved to the nearby St Paul's Parish Centre and residents unable to return to their homes also took refuge there as investigations were carried out.

Police officers, army bomb experts and a sniffer dog were on site to deal with the security alert in the entry known locally as 'dead man's alley', with a cordon in place until around 1pm.

The PSNI later confirmed the suspicious package was a hoax.

One resident said that those behind the security alert were "scumbags".

"It's disgraceful. There could have been a couple of kids dead this morning. They all use that alley, anyone that lives in the area uses that alley," she said.

Bomb disposal experts examined the device found off Beechmount Avenue before later declaring it a hoax. Picture by Mal McCann

St Paul's principal Sean McNamee said the security alert was unwelcome.

"Today was a beautiful day, there was a great sense of hope and optimism with the children coming in for a new school year. It was all really positive so to have it marred in this way was not what we would have hoped for and a very bad day for the local community," he said

Education Minister, Peter Weir condemned those behind the hoax.

“This is the first day of the new school year for St Paul’s Primary School and a day when these young children should be settling and preparing for the year ahead," he said.

"I utterly condemn this alert which has only served to hurt the most vulnerable in our society."

No way through for school pupils after a suspect package found. Picture Mal McCann

West Belfast MLA Fra McCann said the discovery of the suspect package had caused disruption across the area.

"Incidents like this serve no purpose other than bringing disruption to the community and they need to stop immediately," the Sinn Féin MLA said.

Alliance justice spokesman Trevor Lunn said he was appalled by the alert.

“I cannot believe someone would stoop as low as to leave a hoax device so close to a primary school,” Mr Lunn said.

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