600 Incidents In ‘Families’ Feud’

A long running dispute between two families in west Belfast has led to 600 separate incidents ranging from threats to kill to murder, police have said.  In the latest incident, an unoccupied house was set on fire. Earlier, petrol bombs were thrown through the conservatory window of the house at Dermott Hill Park in Ballymurphy at about 0330 BST.

The PSNI said policing the dispute has cost £1m since last February and diverted police resources.

PSNI Superintendent Nick Purce said the feud had consequences for the entire community.

Home owner Oliver Burns said all four family members were asleep at the time of the attack: “I heard my daughter shouting, ‘quick, there’s someone breaking glass’.”

“I jumped out of bed and looked out the front window but couldn’t see anything. I went out the front door – one of the neighbours had come out by this time and told me the house was on fire.”

His daughter, Elizabeth Burns, said there was an overpowering smell of petrol in the house.

“There’s three TVs melted and the windows are all cracked – they put a wheelie bin through the window. The ceiling is collapsed, the sofas are burned and there are two petrol containers lying in the conservatory.”

A number of people were treated in hospital for the effects of breathing in smoke. Police have taken away a number of items for scientific examination.

Sinn Fein councillor Marie Cush called for the community to be “left in peace,” following the latest in a series of “anti-social incidents”.

“Despite the best efforts of youth and community workers in very difficult circumstances, the small group of people behind these attacks seem hell-bent on causing more aggravation and disruption to the local community,” she said.

The SDLP’s Margaret Walsh said there could be “no excuse or justification” for the attack.

“Anyone who throws a petrol bomb through a window of a family home in the dead of night uses it as a murder weapon,” she said.

Trouble in the area has been ongoing since the fatal stabbing of Gerard Devlin in February. Mr Devlin, 39, was stabbed to death at Whitecliff Parade in Ballymurphy. Four people have been charged with murder.

On Tuesday, a detective said other police work in the area was losing out, with car crime increasing by 48% and burglary by 15%.