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One-in-10 sectarian crimes end in court

(Sharon O'Neill, Irish News)

Fewer than one-in-10 sectarian crimes reported to police are brought before the courts, it can be revealed.

Sectarian incidents, after an increase last year, are now running at an average of five a day.

Police are under pressure to bring perpetrators to justice amid claims the force is ineffective in catching sectarian thugs.

The Irish News has learned that less than a tenth of the 1,470 sectarian crimes recorded by police in the 12 months to March – just 142 – resulted in a charge or court summons.

Another 69 cases were deemed 'cleared' for other reasons, such as the dropping of a complaint.

From April to July this year, just 30 out of 559 reported sectarian crimes were brought to court.

A Catholic mother, who was nursing her six-day-old son four weeks ago when a loyalist mob brandishing cross-bows, baseball bats and iron bars tried to smash their way into her north Belfast home, said last night (Tuesday) she had no confidence in police catching those responsible.

"When have they ever been caught? They [the police] have failed us. They know who did it but aren't doing anything about it," she claimed.

North Belfast priest Fr Aidan Troy said: "I have been with families living in intimidation situations where they feel unprotected. They have a sense no-one will be brought to account.

"It is not about revenge, it is about people who believe intimidation is a cancer that has to be rooted out.

"Communities don't feel safe in their own homes. If someone is intimidated out of their home there has to be somebody held accountable. If police can't actually do that we have to review that whole situation."

DUP Policing Board member Willie Hay said similar complaints are made on both sides of the community.

"But it is a collective issue. It is not as black and white as the public would like to think," he said.

Michael Magennis, whose partner and baby were targeted when loyalists set fire to their north Belfast home on Sunday, made an appeal to his Protestant neighbours in White City last night.

"Help get these people. Someone must know who they are. The next time it could be worse, lives could be lost," he said.

The PSNI insisted it treats sectarian crime "very seriously" but cited victims' reluctance to pursue cases and identification issues as key problems.

"Some victims refuse to give a description of an attacker because they believe this could make their situation worse," a spokesperson said.

The force appealed for people to report anything they know of sectarian crimes, adding that the figures do not include those still being investigated.

August 24, 2006

This article appeared first in the August 23, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News