Thanks for support following attack

SIR, — I am writing to thank all those who have contacted me with words of support following the recent attack on myself by the small anti-social element that has been plaguing Downpatrick and Killough these last three to four years.

The houses that have had their windows broken by this gang in English Street, Stream Street, Russell Park and St Patrick’s Drive have been distinguished by the fact that they were lived in by disabled people. In the village of Killough the original nucleus of this gang attacked foreign nationals or people considered ‘new’ to the village.

The common denominator here is picking on people who are the most vulnerable and defenceless with the least community ties. Fortunately we have strong residents associations in Bridge Street, the Stream Street area and Tosú Úr in Lynn Doyle.

The example of Stream Street residents buying a top-range camera system to protect their vulnerable resident is a demonstration of our community resilience in Downpatrick town centre.

I want to take this opportunity to highlight how few individuals are involved in these extreme anti-social activities and the fact that they are all known to the PSNI and community activists. The community has the power to deal with them. There are a pile of complaints already building up against these individuals. Threats that they are ‘connected’ and can have people shot if they give evidence have no basis.

I would encourage everyone to phone 101 and name them – it only takes three complaints where individuals are identified to support police taking action to exclude them from a given area. It is important to give witness statements. Although the PPS has not been properly supporting local police in dealing with this gang, the police are willing to develop the 5 cases needed by the PPS before serious action is taken against under 18s.

There is no doubt that the police failed to deal with the original nucleus of this group properly in Killough when they first started.  Killough was very poorly served. Though this original element has been dealt with, the snowball effect of hangers-on is now being felt. The performance of the police and other agencies like the NIHE was much better when Ballymote became the centre of their activities in 2016-17. This seems to have forced this gang to migrate to the town centre last year.

Since Inspector Darren Hardy has become involved in co-chairing with me an anti-social forum at the Saint Patrick Centre on a monthly basis, the common perception is that police performance has improved considerably and engendered a huge growth in community support for dealing with these thugs.

Inspector Hardy made the town centre the default patrol area for the PSNI. Town centre businesses have confirmed to me that the extreme harassment they and their customers were getting is now well under control.

I also wish to publicly thank an official from the NI Housing Executive, who has been the one public servant who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in helping to stem this scourge – even initiating ‘gating’ of lanes to create new safe cul-de-sacs in the worst affected areas.

In my view what we are seeing now is a ‘mop-up’ operation as this gang engages in its activities in residential areas near the town centre between Bridge Street, Vianstown and Russell Park. If we all pull together and ‘phone 101 every time we see them harassing people or having a beer-fest at the Mound, the Grove or Dunleath Park, it will bring this anti-social snowball to a final stop.

Yours etc,