A SECTARIAN graffiti blitz on several buildings in Ballymena – including the town’s Courthouse which is currently closed due to the coronavirus – has been widely condemned.
The police arrested a 25-year-old man on suspicion of 25 counts of criminal damage following incidents on Wednesday night in the vicinity of Albert Place in the town that were reported to police at 10:10pm.
Inspector Mick Wood said: “It was reported that incidents included graffiti, using white paint, that was daubed onto various properties in the area, including on Sydney Lane, High Street, Albert Place, the local Courthouse and premises on Lower Mill Street as well as two vehicles.
“Most of the graffiti was of a sectarian nature and, so, we are treating these as sectarian hate crimes.
“The 25-year-old was subsequently arrested and he remains in custody this morning, assisting us with our enquiries.
“Our enquiries are continuing and I would appeal to anyone who has information which could assist our investigation to call us on 101, and quote reference number 1926 of 08/04/20, or alternatively call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
Phrases included ‘CIRA’, ‘UTR’, ‘MRF’, ‘Free POWs’, ‘CIRA 32′ and ’32’.
As well as the Courthouse, locations targeted included West Presbyterian Church; homes, the Tower Centre shopping centre; businesses and a doctors’ surgery
On Thursday morning, industrial cleaners were taking the graffiti from the wall of the Tower Centre.
Nearby, Stephen Reynolds, owner of ‘The Front Page’ pub in Ballymena and also a property landlord, was cleaning off graffiti from a garage door at one of his rentals at Albert Place.
He said: “I got the message last night to say that this had been damaged and another property I have up here had been damaged.
“I see there is graffiti at various locations. We don’t need this at this time or any time.”
He said the graffiti meant time had to be spent cleaning it; destruction of property, PSNI time spent apprehending the culprits and processing the culprits etc.
“We definitely don’t need that – no time for that in Ballymena.”
Trevor Ashcroft from Cullybackey was passing by and said: “I think it is down right ridiculous in this day and age with the coronavirus.”
“Where was the PSNI at last night when this happened? Are they not supposed to be patrolling our streets. People doing this are only scum, down right dirt.”
Ballymena SDLP councillor Eugene Reid has condemned the sectarian graffiti.
He said: “I strongly condemn this graffiti. Much of this graffiti was of a sectarian nature and would have undoubtedly caused distress to families and children in the area.
“In the most challenging time in a generation, the community of Ballymena has pulled together to fight back againt COVID-19. These senseless acts undermine that and are not representative of the local community.”
“I urge anyone with any information to contact the PSNI or Crimestoppers.”
TUV Ballymena councillor Matthew Armstrong and Bannside councillor Timothy Gaston said in a joint statement: “Last night we spent the evening with residents of Albert Place until the police arrived after reports reached us of the numerous instances of sectarian vandalism in the area including on the wall of West Presbyterian Church, the doctors’ surgery, vehicles and at least one shop front.
“At a time of national and international crisis the like of which few of us have seen in our lifetime, communities are coming together. Sadly these actions show that there are still those with absolutely no regard for the rule of law or their neighbours.
“We commend the PSNI for responding to this serious incident and arresting a man at the scene. We very much hope that the circumstances in which this attack was carried out will be considered by the courts and that a strong message will be sent that this disgusting behaviour will not be tolerated by society.
“We would commend the Council for sending out a team to clean up Albert Place this morning and very much hope that it will be back to its former glory very soon.”
TUV party leader and North Antrim MLA Jim Allister added: “This disgusting behaviour is a particularly stark illustration of the anti-social behaviour which some in Ballymena suffer from all too often. I welcome the fact that someone has been arrested by police. It is imperative that, after due process, the courts send a very clear message that this is unacceptable.
“I also want to commend councillors Armstrong and Gaston for their efforts last night. Once again they have illustrated why TUV has a record for on the ground delivery in Mid and East Antrim Council.”
Alliance Ballymena Councillor Patricia O’Lynn has said there is no place for sectarianism in Ballymena.
Councillor O’Lynn said: “I would condemn without hesitation whoever painted these sectarian slogans in Ballymena. People have enough concerns right now and this sort of criminal activity will only cause further distress. In addition, it is an unnecessary drain on police resources during this public crisis.
“Police are treating this graffiti as sectarian hate crimes and I would urge anyone with information to pass it to the police as soon as possible. The Ballymena community wants to live and work together and there is no place for sectarianism or any other hate crimes in the area.”
North Antrim Sinn Féin Assemblyman Philip McGuigan said on Twitter some of the graffiti appeared on buildings used by the Health Service.
He added: “Absolutely no need for it. Whoever thinks it is appropriate should think again.”
Mid & East Antrim Borough Council said on Facebook: “A big thank you to our staff who helped clean up graffiti in the Ballymena area this morning.
“Your efforts are very much appreciated, particularly at a time when Council are working hard to ensure essential services continue to be delivered to our citizens during the #Coronavirus pandemic.”
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