Rampaging loyalist mob on a ‘power trip’ says police chief

A police chief has said a mob of loyalist paramilitaries who went on the rampage in Larne were on a “power trip”.

Up to 100 people, many of them masked, descended on the co Antrim town on Sunday night ransacking homes and attacking residents and police.

Sources have linked the terrifying scenes to an altercation on Saturday in which three people were injured.

Two men aged 22 and 26 were arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage and assault in the Ferris Avenue area but were later released on conditional bail.

Three men were taken to hospital for injuries which were not life-threatening. Police first received reports at around 7.40pm on Sunday of “a large number of paramilitary types” gathering in carrickfergus.

About an hour later a mob of 60 to 100 people armed with hammers and baseball bats descended on the Ferris Avenue and Knockdhu park areas and attacked property and cars.

Assistant chief constable George Hamilton said police responded within three minutes, sending two patrol cars to the scene.

Fifteen minutes later, 25 officers from a public order unit arrived to help the patrols, who had come under attack. A second public order unit was also called in.

One resident was seriously injured after being attacked with a hammer. His house had also been attacked earlier this month.

Mr Hamilton said it was his understanding there was also “extensive damage to three houses” and a number of cars, including police vehicles, were attacked.

A family of five were inside one of the homes on Ferris Avenue when it was targeted. Windows were smashed and damage was caused to the interior.

A mother and her two sons also had their nearby home and car badly damaged. One officer suffered a glass injury to the eye as he attempted to prevent the mob attacking a family home. Police were criticised yesterday for failing to make arrests and not having sufficient officers at the scene, despite knowing tensions were high following the previous day’s attack. Extra resources have now been put in the place in the area to prevent further trouble.

Mr Hamilton said in a town the size of larne, “i think the number of police officers that we had available to deploy very quickly to that scenario last night was proportionate”.

“if you were the victim of that last night, you probably wouldn’t see it that way, but of course resources are not endless.”

The police chief blamed members of the breakaway south-east Antrim faction of the UDA for the attacks, saying they seemed to be “on some sort of a power trip”. Police have previously been criticised for failing to clearly attribute blame for acts of violence and intimidation to loyalist paramilitary groups, including the UVF in east Belfast.

Mr Hamilton said within the past week six people connected to the south-east Antrim UDA had been charged with offences such as threats to kill and intimidation.

“These groups seem to want to have some power or legitimacy within communities and it’s very important that the community themselves don’t do anything to give legitimacy to these groups,” he said.

“They are acting outside of the law. It is simple criminality and we will be seeking to bring them to justice for this.”

The Mp for the area, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, said it was his understanding that Sunday’s attacks were “in retaliation for police arrests over the last week and also settling scores”.

“The police must ensure that they have the intelligence and the resources to anticipate the activities of these criminals and apprehend them. in turn the community must cooperate with the police to enable them to do their work,” he said.

“The alternative is thug rule which will destroy those areas where it is allowed to prevail.”

Speaking at the assembly yesterday, Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said the violence raised serious questions about the UDA’s ceasefire.

Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs said “significant additional police resources” should be dedicated to tackling the “serious organised crime”.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said the scenes in Larne were “totally shocking”.

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