Masked mob in east Belfast ‘severe escalation’ of tensions

Concerns have been raised that a gathering of masked men in east Belfast, described as a loyalist “show of strength”, represents a severe escalation of local tensions.

East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson made the comment in the wake of footage circulating of the scenes in the Pitt Park area of the city on Tuesday night.

Scores of men wearing face coverings and hoods or hats to conceal their identity were seen in the video posted online.

A small number of police officers are also shown in the footage.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, who sits on the Policing Board, has questioned why police “merely shepherded” the men out of the area.

“The PSNI attended the scene while the UVF mob were still roaming the community and made minimal efforts to intervene,” Mr Kelly said.

"It has been reported that the mob were preparing to attack a home and, instead of challenging those involved, the PSNI merely shepherded the gang out of the area.”

There are also reports of families having been evicted from their homes and threats made to a community centre that has had to close its doors as a result.

The Ballymac Friendship Centre had been providing assistance, including cooked meals and food parcels to vulnerable people in the community.

“Meaningful intervention and action from PSNI in the early stages of this UVF ‘show of strength’ could have prevented this escalation of events,” Mr Kelly said.

“Criminal gangs have no place in our society and I will call for urgent action to be taken by the PSNI in the upcoming Policing Board meeting to end the scourge of paramilitaries in communities.”

Belfast District Commander Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said police deployed resources as soon as they became aware of an incident in the Pitt Park area.

“We have launched an investigation and are currently reviewing evidence gathered at the time,” he said.

“Police resources in the area have been increased and will be maintained for the coming days.

“If anyone has information regarding the incident or criminality in the area, I would appeal to them to contact the police immediately on 101, or alternatively information can be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

Police outside the Ballymac Friendship Centre in east Belfast. Credit: Pacemaker