Police vigilante warning as group tells feuding Newtownards gang members to leave 'in 48 hours'

The PSNI has said that vigilante behaviour will not be tolerated after a letter from a Newtownards resident collective said "local loyalists" have been asked to "help" remove neighbours alleged to be involved in a crime-gang feud.

A letter from "The West Winds Residents Collective" says that the spate of attacks in Ards and North Down has "caused fear and immeasurable disruption", and states that any neighbours affiliated to one of the groups involved in the recent feud have been asked to leave the area.

A dozen attacks have taken place between Ards, Donaghadee and Bangor which are said to be related to a feud between rival drug gangs who were at one stage operating under the banner of the UDA.

Last weekend, police said a man in his 60s was injured after two petrol bombs were thrown at a property in the Moyne Gardens area of the town.

On Thursday, a group of masked men were seen walking through the town. This led to four arrests.

On Friday, it is alleged that an assault took place in the shopping centre. Four men will appear in court in Downpatrick in relation to this incident on Monday.

It is understood that former South East Antrim UDA members in the area are calling themselves the "Real UFF", and they are in a violent dispute with the North Down UDA.

Police say that this is over drug territory, however a source within the so-called Real UFF told UTV that it is not a turf war and actually stems from a row in a bar.

The letter from the West Winds Residents Collective says they "approached the local loyalists" for assistance in removing some people they believe to be embroiled in the feud from their estate.

It is understood that the group asked for "help" is the UVF, which has murals in the estate.

The statement from the residents' group adds that a list of names "who we as a community want to leave the area" has been handed to the PSNI via a mediation group.

Independent Councillor Steven Irvine is named on the letter as someone "who can vouch for our collective as being representative of this community and its wishes".

"They [the residents] just don't feel safe," he said.

"With all the police presence in the estate and an intended target... They've been an interruption with kids groups, football, youth football, church groups, everything.

"And they just want it all to end. And so they've gone to these people and asked for help."

UTV asked Cllr Irvine if asking a "mainstream loyalist group" to intervene is "actually encouraging more violence?"

"Initially yes," he replied. "But in a normal society, or a society we don't live in it would be ideal.

"The police would come in, sort it all out, but it's not going to happen that way. I think it's got to the stage now the residents are scared, the mainstream loyalists are fed up with it and just want it over and done with, peacefully preferably and they don't want any trouble whatsoever.

"If these people were to leave today that's it done and dusted down in the estate and the normal people can get back to their normal lives then, okay."

North Down and Ards District Commander Superintendent Johnston McDowell said the PSNI "does not tolerate any type of vigilante activity".

"We would caution any individual or group against taking the law into their own hands. The Police is responsible for law enforcement in Northern Ireland - we are here to protect local people and we are proud to serve them," he said.“Those who engage in vigilante behaviour, whether claiming to represent an illegal paramilitary organisation or not, are usually only interested in asserting their own control and influence over local communities, with no regard for wider community concerns.“I want to reiterate our message that we urge residents of our District to remain vigilant and to report anything that gives rise to concern to us so we can take the appropriate action.“Local people will continue to see an increased police presence as we maintain pressure on these criminals and work to thwart their efforts to wreak havoc in our communities.”

Alliance MLA Nick Mathison reiterated the police concerns about vigilante behaviour.

He went on to say that there is anger among his constituents around how the town is being portrayed as a result of the ongoing feud.

"There is a real sense of the community feeling yes, unsettled and yes, afraid, but also very angry.

"This is a great place to live, we're here in the town square with the sun shining, people are out enjoying ice-cream and coffee, Newtownards is a really buzzing town centre, and it's such a shame that these criminal elements within our community are portraying such a negative impression of our town."

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