Northern Ireland

Appeal over Christmas presents theft charity

The Presbyterian Church moderator has called on people in north Belfast to rally behind a charity repeatedly targeted by some local youths.

Christmas presents to be given to severely disabled children at their festive party next week were stolen from the 174 Trust at the weekend.

It was the second time gifts have been stolen from the Duncairn Avenue venue this winter.

A wheelchair and specially adapted computer equipment were also stolen.

Disability co-ordinator Linda Duffy said children using the facility had also been abused and had stones thrown at them as they entered the building.

The Reverend Norman Hamilton said it would be a difficult situation to resolve.

"I would like to think that we would find ways of saying to the 174 Trust, saying to the families and saying to the communities, that we're not going to be cowed into giving into the thuggery that is going on," he said.

Dr Hamilton said while the police and courts would necessarily have to become involved with some of the perpetrators, there had to be other solutions

"There has to be some way of engaging with them so that this just doesn't go on indefinitely.

"The answer is not simply to put them in Hydebank (Young Offenders Centre) and throw away the key," he said.

"We have here what is clearly a very complex problem of what do you actually do to change the outlook, the behaviour, the attitude of a group of really quite young children."

In September, services were put on hold at the Trust after an arson attack, and since then the building has been subject to stone throwing and attempted robberies.

Linda Duffy said: "There was one night they were throwing stones at the children coming off the specially adapted buses.

"I went over to ask them to stop throwing the stones and they gave me a mouthful of abuse back.

"Myself and some of the volunteers had to put our coats up to shield some of the children coming into the centre, so the children wouldn't see what was going on."

She said workers had taken to "standing guard" outside the building.

"It's a pity we need people standing guard at the front door to bring our children into use the centre," she said.

"We've tried to reason with these young people - I don't know what else to do. They're not interested in the damage they're doing to these children."

'Contemptible'

Both the DUP and SDLP have said they will be talking to police about what can be done to prevent more attacks on the charity.

DUP North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said: "It is particularly contemptible that disabled children have been subjected to stone-throwing and verbal abuse.

"It is difficult to comprehend what would motivate such actions."

The SDLP's Nichola Mallon said: "I don't think you can get much lower than stealing presents from severely disabled children.

"The SDLP have requested a meeting with the north Belfast police commander in an attempt to tackle the appalling abuse which these vulnerable children are facing."

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