Anger in Newtownards as masked gang roam streets after week of attacks
AFTER a week of negative headlines for north Down, there were fresh concerns in Newtownards over reports of masked men gathering outside the courthouse and a nearby housing estate.
On Thursday afternoon, it seemed like business as usual along the busy main street as residents came in and out of the many cafés and shops.
The town square is overlooked by a bronze statue of the famous World War Two veteran Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne, where one older man told the Irish News he was tired of the constant tit-for-tat violence.
“It’s just one of those things. Obviously the police have to sort it out, but it’s been going on for a long time,” he said.
“I think it comes down to the fact that politicians aren’t prepared to settle down and discuss things, so until they get themselves sorted out there’s not much we can do.”
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Around 10 minutes away from the town centre, parents arrived at Regent House School after reports that the group of masked men were spotted earlier at the nearby Weavers Grange housing estate.
There was a visible police presence at the school gates to reassure parents but a school spokesperson insisted there was nothing worth commenting on.
One woman waiting for her granddaughter said she was angered that some students even had to question their safety.
“It’s just ridiculous that we’re back to this sort of turf war, but we’ll just keep our noses out of it,” she said.
“Our granddaughter texted her mum to say she was, not quite afraid, but apprehensive about what was going on. Because she knew we were picking her up it was a bit more reassuring for her. Of course, it makes you angry when your grandchildren can’t feel safe at school, whether there is any danger or not. These people are putting the town on the map for all the wrong reasons.”
A parent with two daughters said she was reassured by how the school handled the situation.
“My daughter’s in the high school and sent me a message to say ‘what’s going on?’ She said there was a precautionary thing to lock the gates to make sure everything’s safe,” she said.
“I’m from South Africa, so you kind of expect that there but not here. That’s why we moved here, because it was a safer country. I’ll see how things go this evening and then I’ll decide on whether or not my daughters will go to school tomorrow. I think the school are doing what they can and they have been in contact with the PSNI, so I think it’s going to be OK.”
A few minutes away, several police officers also remained at the entrance to the Weavers Grange estate.
Several of the white buildings had banners of the South East Antrim North Down Brigade, with images of gunmen posing in front of Scrabo Tower.
One family declined to comment on the disruption, while another woman told The Irish News she was angered that police had prevented her from accessing her home earlier in the day. By around 5pm, the PSNI confirmed they had made a further four arrests after the gathering of masked men.
Superintendent Johnston McDowell said high-visibility policing patrols were now operating in the area, with extra support from armed response unit officers and the Paramilitary Crime Task Force.
He also addressed “speculation and misinformation” about the presence of masked men in local schools, but said no such incidents had been reported to police.