Calls for police to put Rathfern arsonists in the dock

LOCAL political representatives have held talks with PSNI Area Commander Paula Hilman to discuss what is being done to bring those responsible for the recent arson attack in the Rathfern estate to justice.

Two houses at Rathfern Way were completely gutted and another was badly smoke damaged in the blaze on Thursday, January 27, but luckily no-one was injured.

Local people believe children as young as 10 or 11 may have started the fire as a prank. However, it soon spread to two oil tanks and engulfed the houses, leaving two families homeless.

The meeting, convened by North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, was also attended by Nelson McCausland MLA, William Humphrey MLA and Councillor Robert Hill, Chair of Newtownabbey Community Safety Partnership.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Dodds said: “The level of destruction caused by this arson incident caused huge distress to the families affected and also within the wider community. Reports from residents of anti-social behaviour by local youngsters, including fire-starting, are a matter of great concern. We are anxious that the police should follow up intensely and progress to apprehending the people responsible for this arson attack.

“On a wider front, we urged that the police must take a pro-active response to these reports of anti-social behaviour in the area and to tackle the problem of very young children being involved. We pressed that the police should be more visible on the ground and should visit local schools and youth organisations to explain the dangers of getting caught up in anti-social behaviour. Local people are adamant that this is a problem which has to be dealt with.”

Following her meeting with the DUP delegation, Chief Inspector Hilman revealed that the local Neighbourhood Policing Team will carry out a leaflet drop in the area and will be liaising with colleagues in the Fire and Rescue Service to look at delivering talks in local schools.

“We are committed to working in partnership with local people and partner organisations to tackle anti-social behaviour and other incidents which affect our community.

“I would ask local people to continue to report incidents and suspicious activity so these can be followed up and investigated,” she said.

A PSNI spokesperson said they couldn’t comment on the details of the ongoing investigation, but added that they believe “a local child or children were responsible for the fire.”

n Information about the arson attack can be passed on to the police on 0845 600 8000, by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555111, or through Neighbourhood Policing Unit Sergeant Paul Steenson on 9025 9336 or via email at paul.steenson@psni.pnn.police.uk