Couple living in fear

Couple living in fear

6 January 2021

AN elderly Downpatrick couple are living in fear from a gang of boys and girls fuelled by drink and drugs.

The husband and wife say the youngsters – some as young as 12 – are playing a game of cat and mouse with the police who appear “powerless” to tackle the problem of anti-social behaviour which has plagued the town for some time.

The couple are now calling on South Down MP Chris Hazzard and South Down MLA Colin McGrath to join with the PSNI and other agencies to tackle the problem “once and for all before someone gets hurt”.

The couple, who are in their seventies and asked not to be named in case of possible reprisal, said the youngsters were making their lives and those of others residents a misery while carrying out wanton acts of vandalism.

Several car wing mirrors in Church Street and English Street were broken in recent weeks. The town’s Christmas tree was attacked and wheelie bins were set on fire in St Patrick’s Square.

The couple have lived in English Street for nearly three decades and claim that several families have moved out over the continuing anti-social behaviour.

“We got a bit of a break, but they were back last Friday evening,” said the husband.

“One of my wife’s carers got her wing mirror kicked off recently and another time when our carers came up here the crowd was out and they were actually so scared that I let them go early.

“It’s just terrible. There were three cars done one night and another night a van had its windscreen put in. They jumped on the roof of another car.”

The man described how the youngsters meet up on the steps which link the back of St Patrick’s Centre to English Street and run into the Grove area before moving to Market Street and Church Street.

“There could be as many as 20 of them gathered together, they are serious. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and they are swapping drink and dealing dope. There’s no talking to them.

“While it’s OK ringing the police and they always come out, it’s absolutely useless as it seems the police can’t touch them.

“The police come and it’s like putting hens in the hen house because as soon as the police go they are back again on the steps or in the Grove. “They are giving the police the runaround.”

The man added that the constant worry of what may happen is impacting on the couple’s enjoyment of living in their own home in their latter years.

The PSNI confirmed that one male was arrested and released pending a report to the PPS following a report of criminal damage to cars in English Street.

Inspector Darren Hardy said that his officers responded to complaints about antisocial behaviour in the English Street, Market Street and  Church Street areas of Downpatrick over the last few weeks but stressed that the issue of anti-social behaviour was “not one that can be addressed by police alone”.

He said masonry was thrown at a police vehicle while officers also received a report of criminal damage to a vehicle parked in the English Street area during another incident before Christmas.

“Young people who choose to engage in this type of behaviour must understand it is unacceptable and must stop. People have a right to live in peace and to feel safe in their communities,” warned Inspector Hardy.

“We understand the adverse impact that anti-social behaviour can have on the quality of life of local residents and we work closely, on an ongoing basis, with our partner agencies and Community Safety Wardens to address community concerns.

“While we are committed to keeping all our communities safe, the issue of anti-social behaviour is not one that can be addressed by police alone. I would ask all parents and guardians to speak to their children and warn them of the dangers and consequences of becoming involved in antisocial behaviour.

“It is also vital that our young people understand the importance of following the advice from our public health partners and government about social distancing so that they can protect their own health and the health of others.”

The senior police officer said that their enquiries were continuing and appealed for information from the public.

He added: “In relation to recent incidents in the English Street, Market Street and Church Street areas, our neighbourhood teams will continue to conduct focused patrols and we would urge anyone who has concerns to contact us on 101, or 999 in an emergency.”