Paramilitary crackdown but ‘faith is lost’ (UTV)

As a major new crackdown against paramilitary-style attacks is launched, a mother whose son was shot dead says people have lost faith in the police.

Seventy-nine people have fallen victim to armed gangs in Northern Ireland in the past year, with attacks centred on urban areas such as Foyle and north and east Belfast.

The vast number of shootings have been attributed to dissident republicans – but only 4% of those responsible have been brought before the courts.

Police on Friday launched a major new plan to tackle the crimes, with measures including a Facebook campaign specifically reaching out to teenagers who may have information.

However Donna Smith, whose 24-year-old son Andrew Allen was killed by vigilante group RAAD earlier this year, has fears about the public’s confidence in the police.

“If the police aren’t seen doing what they should be doing then maybe people don’t have faith in them at the same time,” Ms Smith said.

“You don’t know what situation you could be in.”

The overall number of paramilitary-style attacks has dropped dramatically in recent years, from over 300 in 2001, to 79 in 2011 and, in the first two months of this year, 11.

Police are urging young people from all communities to help drive the figures down even further with help from social media.

“The Facebook campaign is one tactic designed specifically to reach out to those over 16 who may have information,” said Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris.

“These groups are self-serving, self-named, accountable to no one, elected by no one and they are carrying out a criminal enterprise which is akin to a mafia gang in terms of holding an area in fear.

“The community knows who these people are. Who are they associating with, what vehicles are they using, what houses are they using, where are they storing their weapons. Any of this information is entirely vital for us to move forward in our investigation.”

However the new police initiative has been met with some scepticism on the ground.

Una Crossan from the WIMPS lobby group, who works with a group of young people in Belfast campaigning to end the attacks, questioned the amount of time it has taken.

She said: “Why has it taken so long for them to even come out with the initiative this should have been brought in at the start so why now?

“And also the fact that they don’t actually have the community confidence in a lot of the areas where it is happening, so maybe trying to build community confidence would need to be a starting point.”

Meanwhile politicians have supported the measures.

Justice Minister David Ford said: “Those who participate in these attacks have no place in society – their actions are entirely motivated by power, imposing fear and control.

“The police have outlined their plans to work in partnership, build community confidence and provide community assurance that such attacks will not be tolerated. While they have a key role they require, and deserve, the support of the community to tackle this crime.”

Policing Board member Conall McDevitt said: “Paramilitary gangs put enormous pressure on the families of their victims and the young people targeted are not only maimed but, in many cases, forced to flee their homes.

“We urge people with information on such attacks to contact the police directly or through Crimestoppers.”

Tom Elliott of the UUP said: “Statistics show that 40 people have been shot in such attacks in Londonderry alone in the last five years and one man was murdered across the border in County Donegal.

“It is absolutely essential that the communities which are being brutalised by these self-appointed judges and juries find the courage to stand up to them and assist the police.”

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