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PSNI investigate gathering of masked men in east Belfast

Scores of masked men were seen in east Belfast on Tuesday in a video widely circulated on social media.

THE PSNI IS investigating a gathering of masked people in east Belfast on Tuesday afternoon.

Scores of men wearing face coverings and hoods or hats to conceal their identity were seen in the Pitt Park area of east Belfast on Tuesday in a video circulated on social media.

The BBC is reporting that the incident is linked to “an internal row” within the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force. The Newsletter reports that the incident is linked to “internal tensions over drugs”.

Belfast District Commander Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said that as soon as they became aware of the incident, “we deployed resources”.

An investigation has been launched and evidence has been gathered. The PSNI is to increase “resources in the area” for the coming days.

Walls said: “If anyone has information regarding the incident or criminality in the area, I would appeal to them to contact the police immediately on 101 or alternatively information can be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

Sinn Féin MLA and spokesperson on policing Gerry Kelly said the PSNI has serious questions to answer over its response to the incident.

“The PSNI attended the scene while the UVF mob were still roaming the community and made minimal efforts to intervene.

“It has been reported that the mob were preparing to attack a home and instead of challenging those involved the PSNI merely shepherded the gang out of the area.

“Throughout the duration of [Tuesday], the East Belfast UVF forced several families out of their homes and into refuge at a local community centre.”

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Kelly is referring to the Ballymac Friendship Centre, which said yesterday morning that it had to close the centre until further notice “due to threats being made to members of staff and volunteers”. 

The community centre provides services and meals to local residents.

Kelly said: “Meaningful intervention and action from PSNI in the early stages of this UVF ‘show of strength’ could have prevented this escalation of events.”

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