Northern Ireland

Some loyalists 'just crime gangs' says chief constable

Loyalist organisations
Image caption The Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando issued a joint statement on Monday

Some loyalist paramilitary groups are now nothing more than organised crime gangs, the chief constable has said.

George Hamilton was speaking after Northern Ireland's three loyalist paramilitary organisations said they fully support the rule of law.

At a press conference on Monday they said any members involved in crime would be expelled.

The Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando issued a joint statement.

Mr Hamilton welcomed the statement but said it was "disappointing" that 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement there were still statements about violence and criminality.

Speaking on the Nolan Show on Tuesday, he said while some loyalist paramilitary factions were now more or less inactive, others were involved in crime such as drug-dealing and extortion.

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Image caption George Hamilton said the loyalist statement would not soften the police approach to paramilitarism

"East Belfast UVF for example is pretty much just a mid-range organised crime gang that is wreaking havoc on communities, fear on communities in terms of the criminality that they're involved in," he said.

"There are other areas as well, the UDA side, they're struggling clearly too with north Down UDA and we've seen that in recent weeks - threats issued against journalists and so on.

"So there's a pretty broad spectrum, from some groups and areas that are actually pretty inactive or certainly not engaged in that type of criminality.

"We have people at that end of the spectrum right through to organised crime and people carrying out so-called punishment shootings and punishment beatings and it's not acceptable and we're going to pursue them."

He said the places most impacted by the paramilitaries was socially deprived, working-class loyalist areas.

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Image caption Church figures also took part in Monday's press conference

"The last thing they need is the fear and coercion that paramilitary groups bring," he said.

"In the last year we have searched nearly 200 premises of paramilitary organisations - homes, business premises and so on.

"We've arrested 47 of these people, we've charged 44 of them, that's a pretty good arrest-to-charge ratio.

"We're going after them and this statement is not going to fetter us in any way or make us soften our approach to tackling paramilitarism."

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