Belfast Telegraph

Brick bandits' threat to lives of children

By Paul Dykes
07 August 2004

LOYALIST paramilitaries are risking the lives of youngsters by getting them to steal masonry out of vacant Housing Executive homes awaiting redevelopment, it was claimed today.

In some cases, the houses are left with their inner walls "moving in the wind" on the brink of collapse.

A HE spokeswoman said this "brick banditry" had become a serious problem in areas where houses are bricked up pending demolition, and those doing it were taking huge risks.

In the latest incident, gangs of boys, possibly aged as young as 12, have been working their way through vacant HE houses in the Gainsborough Drive area on Belfast, within a stone's throw of York Road police station.

They can be seen stripping out items such as lintels, fireplaces, archway bricks and decorative brickwork and windows in broad daylight, often under the watchful eye of someone in a 4x4 vehicle with blacked out windows.

As some of these houses are still occupied, essential services including electricity remain live - further jeopardising the safety of the youthful bandits.

One woman told the Belfast Telegraph she came home from work on Thursday to find the rear wall of the adjoining property had collapsed after the boy thieves had taken key structural bricks away for sale.

"People who have to live here are having to put up with the consequences," Rebecca Doherty said.

"People have been using the area as a rubbish dump, and we are now getting vermin in our homes."

A PSNI spokesman stressed that police officers were concerned that lives would be lost.

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