A local councillor is urging the public to “let the PSNI police the community” after extensive grafitti appeared throughout Larne and Glenarm.
UUP Councillor and Chair of Mid and East Antrim PCSP Andrew Wilson spoke out after the appearance of several signs bearing the words “House Breakers” alongside a symbol of a circle containing a cross.
Two such slogans were scrawled across Larne’s Laharna building at Riverdale, while another appeared on the boarded-up doors of the former Poundstretchers store in Lower Cross Street and a third was spotted on a wall in Fleet Street.
There were also reports of a slogan in Boyne Square, Linn Road and Antiville.
Meanwhile, two similar slogans were spotted in the neighbouring village of Glenarm.
PSCP Chair Mr Wilson condemned the graffiti, which he said appeared to be “a form of vigilantism.”
“I have to condemn that and if anyone is aware of crimes or burglaries in the area they should go to the police or Crimestoppers,” he stated.
“The PSNI police the community and anybody that has any information that can help regarding crimes needs to go to the police.
“It’s the only way we can get these crimes resolved and get the people brought before the courts and convicted.”
Responding to social media comments that the graffiti was a reaction to the police’s perceived failure to deal with a spate of burglaries against the elderly, Mr Wilson replied: “With the resources that the police have they are working to the best of their capability.
“I had a recent meeting with the Justice Minister and made it clear that the PCSP would like to see more resources directed to the PSNI, more foot patrols and a presence on the ground to deal with criminals.”
Acknowledging that there were “historical issues of confidence in the police in East Antrim,” Mr Wilson said that the PCSP would be “fighting for more resources” in the local area.
He added that Mid and East Antrim Agewell Partnership (MEAAP) offers services to enhance elderly residents’ home security.
“There are a number of schemes, for example MEAAP work with members of the community and provide them with equipment to feel safer at home.
“We also have a Good Morning Larne scheme to make people feel safer.”
East Antrim UUP MLA Roy Beggs also urged people not to “take the law into their own hands.”
“There is a high risk that innocent individuals could get caught up in this,” he stated.
“So-called punishment beatings or shootings can be life-changing and have high costs to our already burdened National Health Service.
“For that reason I would say we have to rely on the police and the justice system.
“The police can only search or arrest people for questioning if they have the information.”
Responding to allegations that the slogans had been painted by paramilitaries, Mr Beggs added: “Sometimes paramilitaries themselves have been involved in criminality including burglaries by taking cuts.
“It would be wrong to do anything which would give a place to paramilitaries in terms of law and order.
“At the same time we will have to deal with other sorts of issues as a result of paramilitary activity.
“I would urge people to rely on the police and justice system,” he concluded.
A Housing Executive spokesperson said that the graffiti on the Laharna building would be removed today (Thursday).
PSNI Superintendent Ryan Henderson said: “Tackling burglary is a top priority for us as we know the impact it has on victims, particularly the elderly.
“Whenever we see any trends in an area we look to react to it quickly and decisively.
“In recent weeks police in Larne have put in place an operation which combined additional police patrolling with reactive and organised crime support.
“This resulted in a number of arrests and charges and the recovery of stolen property. A high profile social media campaign was also launched.
“I send out a clear message that if you commit a burglary, you will be robustly pursued.
“We have also received a number of reports of graffiti in the Larne area. At this stage the origin of this graffiti is unknown. We are aware of rumours of paramilitary involvement in the graffiti and this will form one line of enquiry.”
Pressure is mounting on health bosses over the continued refusal to publish a review of patient safety at a hospital for the severely learning disabled and mentally ill.
A major criminal investigation is ongoing into the alleged abuse of patients by staff at Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Co Antrim.
The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust commissioned a review of adult safeguarding at the facility, the findings of which were made known to families at the beginning of the week.
The review found that CCTV footage showed patients being harmed by staff while other staff did not speak out, along with a host of other failings.
The Trust’s continued refusal to publish the report — with information to identify patients redacted if necessary — has been roundly condemned by politicians from most of the major parties in Northern Ireland, alongside families of Muckamore patients.
The father of a severely learning disabled Muckamore patient, who has requested anonymity, said: “The Trust have been trying to hide behind patient confidentiality from the very beginning. But all they have to do is put a black line, or write ‘Patient A’ and ‘Patient B’.”
He added: “It is in the public interest — the national interest — that people are made aware of the systemic failures in adult safeguarding. Although this is the Belfast Trust, it has ramifications across every health Trust and every citizen in Northern Ireland.”
DUP MP Gavin Robinson said: “In terms of publishing the report, absolutely. The public is now engaged in this issue, they recognise the significant scale of the failure in letting down such vulnerable people, and the public are going to continue their quest for answers, transparency and accountability. The Trust needs to meet them on that.”
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said: “I am calling for a public inquiry so of course I believe the report should be published. It is in the Trust’s own interest, if they wish to dispel the public perception that they are covering up, downplaying or obfuscating what has happened.”
UUP MLA Roy Beggs said: “I would ask that the Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) report into the abuse at the Muckamore Abbey Psychiatric Intensive Care unit be urgently published.”
The News Letter has asked the Belfast Trust to explain its refusal to publish the review.
A spokesperson said: “SAI reports are not published. Belfast Trust has shared in confidence the Final Safeguarding Report on Muckamore Abbey Hospital with families of patients affected and the HSCB.
“We recognise there is a public interest in this and we have shared the recommendations of the report and a summary of the key themes in our media statement.”
MEETING WITH FAMILIES
A meeting between families of Muckamore Abbey Hospital patients and senior health officials, including Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly, is due to take place on Monday at the hospital.
Mr Pengelly is expected to apologise to families amid an ongoing criminal investigation into the abuse of patients by staff at the hospital.
Families have also told the News Letter a major announcement is expected from the Department of Health next week.
The family of murdered Ballycarry woman Nichola Dickson claim they were “kept in the dark” over her killer’s release from prison.
Twenty-six-year-old Nichola was brutally murdered by her partner, David McCord, at her Ballycarry home in 2003.
McCord was sentenced to a minimum of 11 years behind bars, but has been back on the streets since July under a pre-release scheme.
Shocked to learn that McCord has effectively been released six months early, Nichola’s brother Gareth Smyth and her mother Linda Brown have paid a visit to Attorney General John Larkin, QC, to discuss the case.
The pair spoke to Mr Larkin of their displeasure at the “lack of information” available to them surrounding McCord’s release.
Gareth told the Times: “We have been virtually excluded from the parole process, and have been shown no proof that McCord has been rehabilitated.
“We got a vague letter in July informing us that McCord would be getting out of prison for prolonged periods of time on a pre-release scheme leading up to the end of his tariff.
“We took this to mean he would be out for a week or two at a time, but were shocked to find out recently that McCord has been out for months, and we have no idea if he will be going back inside.
“We don’t even know if a date has been set for McCord’s parole board hearing, and victims’ families have no right to representation at these hearings.
“The process needs to be more open and transparent and take the needs of victims’ families into account.”
Gareth said the Attorney General was “very sympathetic” to the family’s plight.
“He agreed that changes should be made to the parole process to give victims’ families more involvement,” Gareth added.
Mr Larkin also told the family he would press Justice Minister David Ford for changes to be made, and asked if he could refer to Nichola’s case when making his representations.
While Gareth acknowledges that any changes to the process would come too late to help his family, he hopes it could spare others from experiencing the same trauma.
He added: “McCord destroyed our lives when he took Nichola from us, and just when we had started to put things back together, this happens and takes us right back to square one.
“Some members of my family are frightened knowing that McCord is no longer locked up.
“What makes it worse is that we don’t even know if he has shown any remorse for what he did.”
Gareth and Linda now plan to lobby the Justice Minister to find out why McCord has not served his tariff.
“I feel the minister is burying his head in the sand on this issue. Hopefully he will agree to meet with us so we can get some answers,” Gareth concluded.
Meanwhile, east Antrim MLA Roy Beggs, who accompanied Gareth and Linda to the meeting with the Attorney General, said “the rights of victims need to be adequately taken into consideration by the parole system, rather than focusing on the needs of prisoners”.
The Ulster Unionist representative also said he was grateful that Mr Larkin was so keen to meet and discuss the case.
He added: “It is important that they have the opportunity to express their feelings and raise their concerns. At this stage there are probably more questions than answers, and mostly those answers need to come from the Minister of Justice.
“I have written to him in detail about this case, and am waiting for a full response.”
Mr Beggs told the Times that one of the specific issues which emerged at the meeting with the Attorney General is the “inadequate” participation rights for victims in the parole process for life-sentence prisoners.
He added: “In England, the Victims Commissioner has recently made strong recommendations to the Government to make parole panel hearings more open and transparent, with victims granted the right to attend the hearing and receive a written summary of the panel’s decision with some explanation of how the decision was reached.
“At the moment in Northern Ireland, even the Attorney General does not have the right to see the reports of the Parole Commissioners – the body which decides whether a prisoner should be released at the end of their sentence.
“Why must we always be playing catch-up with the rest of the UK? Victims like Linda and Gareth deserve more attention and the whole Victims Information Scheme needs reformed,” Mr Beggs concluded.
North Belfast is a constituency where changing demographics and key and boundary changes have marginally increased the nationalist population.
Nigel Dodds has held the seat since 2001 when the DUP snatched victory from the UUP and in 2015 Mr Dodds secured 19,096 votes to Gerry Kelly’s 13,770.
Mr Dodds success at holding the seat for a fourth time was made possible by an electoral pact with the UUP.
Sinn Féin are currently buoyed by a re-invigorated nationalist electorate but the party do not take their seats in Westminster and have in the past struggled to get their voters enthused by the prospect of voting for a parliament they barely recognise.
The SDLP have ruled out electoral pacts with Sinn Féin in the past but the 3,338 votes the party secured in 2015, may provide Kelly with the greatest chance of victory.
For the DUP to lose north Belfast, ousting their deputy leader, may be unthinkable for unionists but it’s far from impossible.
Prediction: Sinn Féin in with a real chance.
Sinn Féin would probably get any candidate it selected elected in West Belfast. It is the party’s safest of safe seats.
They have held it since 1983 when Gerry Adams was first elected with only a brief interruption when the SDL’Ps Dr Joe Hendron took the seat in 1992.
Adams moved into southern politics in 2011 when the mantle was passed to Paul Maskey.
In the 2015 Westminster election the party were victim to voter apathy, mixed with a welfare reform backlash.
Their vote dropped by almost 17 per cent, with People Before Profit (PBP) taking 19 per cent of the vote. Not that it mattered as the party were safe as houses with 19,163 votes.
Sinn Féin hold four of the five west Belfast assembly seats and comfortably saw off the PBP challenge in May.
Prediction: In the bag for Sinn Féin.
John Hume and wife Pat
The home of John Hume has been a safe SDLP seat since it was created in 1983.
In 2005 Mark Durkan took over from his iconic predecessor and has been in post since, managing to increase his vote in 2015 by just over three per cent.
However, the snap assembly election in March saw Sinn Féin outpoll the SDLP in the constituency for the first time
The death of Martin McGuinness has had a big impact in Derry and republicans will no doubt be keen to remind voters of the legacy of the former Deputy First Minister as they take to the polls.
Prediction: Too close to call
The DUP’s Gregory Campbell. Picture by Mal McCann
Gregory Campbell has held the East Derry – or East Londonderry – since 2001 when he took over from the Ulster Unionist Party’s William Ross, who had held the seat since the consistency was formed in 1983.
The UUP have since been all but wiped out in the area – in 2015 the party’s vote dropped by a further 2.4 per cent with William McCandless polling 5,333.
A Paisleyite, and traditional hard line DUP member there had been rumours Mr Campbell would retire at the end of the current term, however, that seems very unlikely in light of a snap election.
Caoimhe Archibald of Sinn Féin came in second last time with 6,859 votes, which is about all there is for the party in the unionist dominated area.
Prediction: DUP comfortable
West Tyrone is a predictable constituency; nothing has changed in the area since Sinn Féin veteran Pat Doherty defeated William Thompson of the Ulster Unionist Party in 2001.
One of the newer constituencies, it was only created in the 1997 boundary change and has remained green for the last 16-years.
Even a unionist pact is unlikely to change that, the DUP and UUP combined vote in the last Westminster election coming in shy of 13,000, no match for Pat Doherty’s 16,807 votes in 2015.
Prediction: Sinn Féin safe seat
Michelle O’Neill celebrates her victory with Ian Milne and Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy
Mid Ulster is best known as the constituency of the late Martin McGuinness and nostalgia at his recent passing and his outspoken opposition to Brexit are bound to be key talking points in a snap election aimed at securing an increased Tory mandate.
Sinn Féin’s Francie Molloy has been the sitting MP since 2013, when Mr McGuinness resigned the seat after the end of double jobbing.
While the 2015 election marked a slight drop in the Sinn Féin vote the party still managed to secure just shy of 20,000 votes in a constituency with 40,922 valid votes cast.
The home of the party’s current leader Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin hold three of the five current assembly seats.
Prediction: Safe Sinn Féin
Ian Paisley jnr
NORTH Antrim is perhaps one of the safest seats for the DUP and has been a cornerstone of the Paisley political dynasty for nearly half a decade.
Always a unionist stronghold, the former first minister Ian Paisley captured the seat from Ulster Unionist Henry Maitland Clark in 1970.
The elder Paisley stepped down as first minister and DUP leader in 2008 and shortly after announced he would not be contesting his parliamentary seat in 2010.
Ian Paisley Jnr took his father’s seat in 2010 with a healthy 46.4 per cent of the votee.
Prediction: DUP hold
Senior Ulster Unionist politician Danny Kinahan, who is now MP for South Antrim
SOUTH Antrim has been a unionist tug-of-war for decades, swapping alternately between the DUP and UUP in every election since 1983.
In early 2000 the Ulster Unionist incumbent, Clifford Forsythe, died suddenly and the ensuing by-election took place amidst a fierce political struggle between the two unionist party’s over the Good Friday Agreement.
The DUP’s William McCrea narrowly won the seat over the UUP’s David Burnside in 2000.
In the 2001 general election Burnside retook his seat, before William McCrea topped the poll once again in 2005 and 2010, only to narrowly lose it in 2015 to the UUP’s Danny Kinahan.
One way or another, South Antrim will remain a unionist constituency, but just which unionist party comes up trumps is uncertain.
Prediction: Contested unionist
It’s the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, who as environment minister said he believed climate change was a con
IN an overwhelmingly unionist constituency, the UUP’s Roy Beggs Snr has safely held the East Antrim seat since 1983, before a surprising upset in 2005 by the DUP’s Sammy Wilson.
The DUP stalwart has maintained his seat ever since by a comfortable margin, never dropping much less than 20 per cent ahead of his nearest competitor.
A frequent media spokesperson for the party, Wilson has been in the public eye for years and has seemingly enjoyed the support of many hard-line unionists.
The nearest threat to any UUP/DUP victory in recent ballots came in 2015, when the Alliance party’s Stewart Dickson came in third with 15 per cent of the vote share, however this is unlikely to worry any unionists in June.
Prediction: DUP hold
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson
MUCH like East Antrim, Lagan Valley has been a unionist stronghold ever since the seat was created in 1983.
It has also historically returned one of the highest vote totals for the UUP .
James Molyneaux held the seat for 14 years until his retirement in 1997, when it was represented by the then rising star of the party, Jeffrey Donaldson.
Shortly after the 1998 election Donaldson left the UUP and joined the DUP and has maintained between 47 and 55 per cent of the vote share in every election since.
No one has come close to threatening the former junior minister’s seat in the commons and June is likely to be another comfortable victory.
Prediction: DUP hold
FOR almost 15 years, the former UUP leader David Trimble represented Upper Bann in the commons.
His once strong majority was slowly eroded, however, when both nationalist and DUP support grew over the years.
This situation came to a head in 2005 when the DUP’s David Simpson toppled Trimble in a bitterly fought, mud-slinging contest- one which would see the Ulster Unionist resign as the leader of his party soon after.
From at one time being relegated to the back of the field, the nationalist vote share has grown to a combined 35 per cent in recent years, making Upper Bann a safe bet for no one.
FERMANAGH AND SOUTH TYRONE
A seat once held by IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, Fermanagh and South Tyrone has seen some of the closest races ever fought in any election in the north.
The UUP’s Ken Maginnis stood down from the seat he had held for nearly 18 years in the run up to the 2001 election and Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew won the seat over the UUP’s James Cooper by just 53 votes.
In 2010, it was just four votes that saw Gildernew keep her seat when she beat unionist independent candidate Rodney O’Connor in a controversial contest, which involved a dispute of the counting of ballot papers.
The UUP’s Tom Elliot then ousted the incumbent nationalist in 2015, courtesty of a unionist pact.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone will likely live up to its reputation and be a neck-and-neck contest once again.
Prediction: Too close to call
Former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell will stand again in South Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
One of the battles of the election, the race for South Belfast is set to go right to the wire.
The SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell, the area’s MP for 12 years, faces a sustained attack on two fronts as he seeks to protect a majority of just 900 votes.
In the last election in 2015, Mr McDonnell held on despite winning the lowest ever share of the vote of any successful MP, at 24.5%.
The question of whether there are pacts on either the unionist or nationalist side will ultimately seal Mr McDonnell’s fate.
In 2010, Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir stood aside to allow the SDLP a free run, with the party winning a majority of almost 6,000, but bolstered by his poll-topping performance in the Assembly election last month is unlikely to do so again.
However, of arguably greater influence on the race is whether unionists rally round one candidate, which they have failed to do on every occasion since Mr McDonnell’s election as MP.
In 2015, Jonathan Bell was parachuted into the seat by the DUP and came within 900 votes of victory, with 3,500 preferences that would have got him comfortably across the line going to the Ulster Unionist candidate Rodney McCune.
Prediction: Too close to call
Alliance leader Naomi Long has claimed some politicians are refusing to compromise on “vanity projects”. Picture by Mal McCann
East Belfast is an example of where unity has delivered for unionists.
After a shock win for Alliance’s Naomi Long in 2010, the DUP managed to translate anger over the removal of the Union flag at City Hall and the decision of the UUP to stand aside into a victory for Gavin Robinson.
Mrs Long, who enters the race this time round having topped the poll at the Assembly election, will nonetheless face an uphill struggle to regain the seat if the Ulster Unionists withdraw.
In another likely showdown with Mr Robinson, the Alliance leader will need the votes of nationalists and Green supporters if she is to overturn a deficit of more than 2,500 and topple the DUP again.
Prediction: DUP hold
Lady Sylvia Hermon has questioned border security in the event of a Brexit. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
A safe unionist seat, the only issue to be resolved in North Down is whether independent Lady Sylvia Hermon manages to hold on against the DUP.
For the past two years, the DUP has secured three seats in each Assembly election in the constituency.
However, if the DUP is to follow through on that warning, it will need to win round the section of its voters who have continually backed Mrs Hermon in Westminster elections.
A widow of former RUC Chief Constable Sir Jack Hermon and the area’s MP for 16 years, Mrs Hermon attracts a huge personal vote.
In 2015, DUP candidate Alex Easton polled less than half the tally of Lady Sylvia, who had a majority of more than 9,000.
Prediction: Independent unionist hold
DUP’s Jim Shannon after winning the Strangford seat at the count centre in Newtownards. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 7, 2010. Photo credit should read: Julien Behal/PA Wire.
Another safe unionist seat, the DUP’s Jim Shannon won a majority of more than 10,000 here in 2015.
Ever since Iris Robinson overturned the UUP’s dominance in Strangford in 2001, the DUP have retained the seat at a canter.
Such was the UUP’s collapse at the last Westminster election in Strangford that Alliance came within 200 votes of finishing in second place behind Mr Shannon.
Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong, who ran in 2015, secured the first seat here in last month’s Assembly election and may emerge as the main contender to the DUP.
Mike Nesbitt, who unsuccessfully challenged the DUP in the 2010 Westminster election, may revive the UUP’s flagging fortunes should he decide to stand but the safe bet is on another comfortable victory for Mr Shannon.
Prediction: DUP hold
June’s election will mark almost three decades to the day when the SDLP’s Eddie McGrady won the South Down seat at Westminster.
The party never looked back and the SDLP have held firm ever since, fighting off first unionists and later Sinn Féin.
However, Sinn Féin have gradually made up ground over the years, halving the gap on the SDLP in Westminster elections since 2001.
Sinéad Ennis topped the poll for Sinn Féin in last month’s Assembly election, and of greater concern for the SDLP, its overall first preference vote was lower than Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin will feel this is their greatest opportunity at the South Down seat, but Margaret Ritchie is bolstered by a 6,000 majority and may attract tactical votes from unionists.
Prediction: Sinn Féin gain
NEWRY AND ARMAGH:
This seat last changed hands in 2005, when Sinn Féin capitalised on the retirement of the SDLP’s Seamus Mallon to capture the prize it had long coveted.
The SDLP has struggled to make up the ground ever since, failing to get within 8,000 votes of Sinn Féin in the past two elections.
As a result the Ulster Unionists emerged as the main contender to Mickey Brady in 2015, with Danny Kennedy finishing 4,000 votes behind in second place, albeit as the main unionist candidate following the DUP’s withdrawal.
Mr Kennedy, fresh from losing his Assembly seat, may be free to focus his energy on another attempt at Westminster but he will be hard pressed to get across the line in the overwhelmingly nationalist constituency.
Families’ calls for a public inquiry into the abuse of disabled patients at a specialist hospital in Co Antrim have been backed by politicians.
Calls for an inquiry into the abuse of patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital have been backed by the DUP, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
A major criminal investigation into the hospital, an inpatient facility for adults with severe mental health problems and severe learning disabilities, has been ongoing for some time but has yet to result in any charges being brought forward.
Police, with the assistance of the National Crime Agency, are believed to be reviewing thousands of hours of CCTV footage, which is said to show patients being badly mistreated by staff.
At least 13 staff members have been suspended by the Belfast Trust, who have repeatedly apologised to families.
The father of a patient at Muckamore told the News Letter that senior police had privately admitted the alleged abuse is worse than the Winterbourne View scandal that shocked the UK in 2011.
That scandal, which emerged when the BBC broadcast shocking images of patients with severe learning disabilities being mistreated, resulted in multiple prosecutions, the closure of the home, and several major government investigations.
The parent, who requested anonymity, said: “After Winterbourne, there were MPs calling for an inquiry straight away. We need a full public inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened, how it was allowed to happen, and how it was dealt with. We’ve seen with RHI how important that is.”
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said: “I and the SDLP will support the families regardless. Obviously the focus is on Muckamore but perhaps a public inquiry should go wider – into care right across the North. People need confidence that problems are being addressed.”
A DUP spokesperson said: “Had concerns not been raised with the Department of Health then the trust’s initial dismissal may have not been probed further. That alone needs further exploration.
“We will continue to support the families of those who have suffered so terribly, including if appropriate through a public inquiry.”
DUP MLA Jim Wells, a former health minister, said: “If we’re having an inquiry it must not drag on. It must be a short, sharp inquiry which reports back quickly.”
Sinn Fein MLA Colm Gildernew said: “Unfortunately, Muckamore is not a unique case. Notwithstanding the high standard of care being delivered across the health and social care service, instances of failure to protect vulnerable people – such as those in Dunmurry Manor Care Home – is sadly becoming a recurrent theme. A public inquiry is needed to identify the systemic failures.”
UUP health spokesperson Roy Beggs said: “If we had a health minister in place they would have to hold senior health managers to account and then to consider whether a public inquiry would be required.”