AN attack on an eastern European family in Castlewellan, which was branded a hate crime by the police, may have been a dispute between two Polish groups.
Castlewellan community leaders say while the facts are still confused they do not believe this was a hate crime but part of a dispute which erupted into violence last week.
The PSNI is investigating two separate incidents within 48 hours at the same property at the O’Donnell Park area, which has stunned politicians and residents.
During the early hours of April 11, four men broke into the house and assaulted a lady in her 40s. Just after midnight two days later, a car outside the family home was set on fire with police officers who responded escorting two adults, two children and the family dog from their home. The incident is being treated as arson.
Police say the attacks have left the family “frightened and upset”, suggesting they had the potential to be much more serious.
In addition, they say it is “extremely fortunate” no-one was hurt as the fire that was started could have spread to the house where two young children were sleeping. Neighbours who alerted the emergency services have also been praised for their response.
Police probing both incidents hope people may be able to assist them and are keen to hear from anyone who may have spotted suspicious activity in the O’Donnell Park or Burrenwood Road area on April 11 and 13.
Expressing her sympathies to the family affected, South Down MP, Margaret Ritchie, said: “I would ask for people to help police bring those responsible to justice.
“We have worked hard to create an equal society in Down which makes it all the more disappointing. A lot of hard work has been done on this issue over the past 40 years and this type of incident is not common in Castlewellan.
“Please desist from these kind of attacks. Allow people to live in peace in their own homes.”
Condemning the crimes, local councillor Laura Devlin said: “Every resident deserves to live here in peace and safety. This part of Castlewellan, known as the Cow Lane area locally, is a very quiet area. This sort of crime would not be typical.”
Anyone who believes they can assist police with their enquiries is asked to contact officers at Downpatrick PSNI station on the non-emergency number 101, quoting reference 97 of 11/4/17. Information can also be left anonymously using the confidential Crimestoppers number 0800 555111.