A senior police officer has blamed a faction of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) for an overnight “rampage” in County Antrim.
A crowd of up to 100 people, many of them masked, gathered in a residential area of Larne on Sunday night and attacked police, residents and homes.
ACC George Hamilton said one man had been seriously hurt, an officer had an eye wound, homes and cars were damaged.
Houses were attacked in Ferris Avenue and Knockdhu Park.
The injured resident is in a stable condition in hospital. The policeman, who suffered a glass injury to his eye according to ACC Hamilton, has been discharged from hospital.
A police vehicle was damaged as officers attempted to deal with the crowd that had gathered in Sallagh Park, Larne, just before 21:00 BST.
The Democratic Unionist Party said the attacks were linked to recent arrests.
ACC Hamilton condemned the disturbances, describing the attacks as a “rampage”.
“This group of somewhere between 60 and 100 people, many of them masked, who we believe to be members of south-east Antrim UDA, decided that they would take the law into their own hands,” he said.
“They have absolutely no legitimacy to do any of this. They are acting outside of the law, it is simple criminality and we will be seeking to bring them to justice for this.”
ACC Hamilton said that the south-east Antrim faction of the UDA seemed to be “on some sort of a power trip” following recent tensions in the area.
He added it was his understanding that there was “extensive damage to three houses in total” and a number of cars, included police vehicles, were attacked.
He told a news conference that police were first contacted at about 19:40, by concerned residents in Carrickfergus, County Antrim.
He said the callers reported that “a large number of paramilitary types”, some of them masked, had gathered in the town.
“The assessment was that they were probably meeting in Carrickfergus to move on somewhere else, ” ACC Hamilton added.
“Police identified a number of possibilities, based on recent rises in tension across south-east Antrim.
“Larne was one of those, and about an hour later we then had the attack on the first house in Larne, and police responded to that within three minutes.”
Fifteen minutes later, 25 officers from a public order unit arrived at the scene, to assist the initial response patrols who had come under attack. A second public order unit was then called in.
ACC Hamilton said he believed that the police response was “proportionate” but said he accepted that the residents affected may not share his view.
“It’s our job to keep them safe. It doesn’t feel like that’s happening when we see the events of last night unfold.”
He told reporters that that UDA was a “very disparate” and “incohesive group”.
“This south-east Antrim group, which wouldn’t even be recognised by other elements within the UDA, seem to be on some sort of a power trip.
“They want to grab power and legitimacy in communities and we’re determined as a police service to bring them to justice,” ACC Hamilton added.
The officer added that six people have been arrested recently in connection with tensions in south-east Antrim but said he could not comment further as the cases were before the courts.
The MP for the area, Sammy Wilson, said the men had descended on the town and staged a “coordinated show of strength” before attacking police and “ransacking homes”.
“I believe that this was in retaliation for police arrests over the last week and also settling scores in an attempt to stamp paramilitary authority on parts of the town,” the DUP MP said.
“This cannot be allowed to happen. Larne must not drift back to the days of the past and I know that there is no desire for this to happen apart from those who wish to be able to continue their criminality without challenge,” Mr Wilson added.
The issue was raised at the Northern Ireland Assembly as a matter of the day by the Alliance MLA for East Antrim, Stewart Dickson.
He said the violence was organised and raised serious questions about the status of the UDA’s ceasefire.
Mr Dickson added that for too long there had been a sense that “certain individuals are untouchable” and called for support for the police.
Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs Jr told MLAs that the south-east Antrim faction of the UDA was trying to hold sway over an entire community.
SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said the scenes in Larne were “totally shocking” and had placed the police in an impossible position.
Oliver McMullan of Sinn Féin said similar incidents were happening in Larne “on a regular basis” and disagreed with the DUP’s assessment that the trouble had been sparked by recent arrests.
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said the attacks were “a challenge to British law and order”.
“Do those who are orchestrating and carrying out these attacks think they are above the law?” Mr Beggs said.
“This is serious, organised crime endangering life. I would call for significant additional police resources to be dedicated to address those who are challenging British law and the justice system.”
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