Northern Ireland news

DUP enquired about house 'soon to become vacant' days before resident was intimidated from the property

Residents of Ballysillan leaving their homes after intimidation by members of a well known criminal family. Picture by Hugh Russell.

THE DUP offered support to a woman who wanted a specific house in north Belfast a week before the original resident was forced out by a criminal gang.

A DUP MLA emailed the Housing Executive on the constituent's behalf about the property in Ballysillan Avenue.

It's understood the woman said she was interested in the house because it 'would soon become vacant' - a week before the legal tenants of the property were forced to flee their home after being subjected to intimidation.

Police are investigating a spate of attacks on homes in Ballysillan Avenue where six families have been forced from their homes.

Around 30 people - including young children - have fled following up to ten separate attacks on properties with vehicles also set alight.

Intimidated residents are either in emergency accommodation or staying with relatives.

The properties were built around two years ago by Connswater Homes housing association.

A well known criminal drug gang is thought to be responsible.

Loyalist Volunteer Force flags have also been erected on the nearby Crumlin Road.

A 26-year-old man, arrested from a house in Ballysillan Avenue last Friday morning on suspicion of intimidation and criminal damage relating to the ongoing disturbances in the area, was released on police bail pending further enquiries.

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

The Irish News can reveal that an email was sent by the office DUP MLA William Humphrey on behalf of a female member of a prominent loyalist family and made reference to a specific home in Ballysillan Avenue.

The email stated that the woman was interested in the house and believed "it was soon to become vacant".

The constituency worker who sent the email is believed to have done so in good faith believing it to be a genuine housing matter.

However, the contents of the email are now with police and expected to form part of the wider investigation into ongoing intimidation in Ballysillan.

A spokesperson for Mr Humphrey said: "Constituency offices are regulated by data protection legislation and therefore we cannot respond to information requests relating to specific constituents.

"Mr Humphrey's office has reported a suspected data breach to the PSNI, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

"Regarding the recent trouble in Ballysillan Avenue, we are totally opposed to any acts of intimidation, which should be reported to the PSNI.

"We are working to bring stability and calm to this community. Those behind such criminality should be prosecuted and removed from our streets", the spokesperson added.

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

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