Northern Ireland

Yorkgate station drug dealing fears prompt new safety measures

Yorkgate train station
Image caption Residents living near Yorkgate station have complained about drug dealing around the facility

Translink has said it has made changes at Belfast's Yorkgate train station after a rise in anti-social behaviour.

Local residents have complained about heroin being sold, leading Translink to cut back shrubs and bushes to make the station safer for travellers and staff.

The police said they have "increased patrols at key times" near the station.

They said officers are working with the council, Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) and local representatives to clamp down on criminal behaviour.

'Peddling heroin'

In March, the Police Service of Northern Ireland made three arrests for possession of Class A, B, and C drugs in the vicinity.

Local people have told BBC News NI that the drug dealers are not from their area, and expressed concerns that they could be dangerous.

Image caption Bushes and shrubs outside the station have been removed after complaints drug dealers were using the foliage to conceal criminality

One resident, who did not want to be named over fears the gang could then target him, said: "We believe as a community that a criminal gang is travelling throughout north Belfast and Yorkgate is just one area."

"They're peddling heroin. Residents have seen heroin being sold in and around Yorkgate train station.

"Police have confirmed that there is a criminal gang," he added.

Image caption One resident spoke to the BBC's Sara Neill anonymously, as he feared he would be targeted for speaking out

The station is popular with commuters and schoolchildren but Hilton Parr, head of rail services at Translink, said passenger safety has prompted them to take action.

'Sleeping rough'

"In recent weeks and months we've had an ongoing increase in anti-social behaviour," he said.

"We've encountered people sleeping rough in the vegetation. We've had people using drugs and taking alcohol and also we've had staff and customers intimidated.

Image caption Translink's Hilton Parr said action was taken after an increase in anti-social behaviour

"It's rather barren looking while the grass grows but we've taken out a lot of vegetation round the area, we've opened up the area and brightened the pathways to make sure it's safer for our customers."

'Shocked and angry'

People who live nearby believe the foliage was allowing dealers to conceal criminal behaviour.

"We basically pushed for the bushes and trees to be cut back because they were being used to hide heroin and dealers were using it as cover," the resident said.

"We were in shock as a community when we found out. Obviously young children from our community would play in that area.

"People are shocked and angry that this is going on, on the fringes of their community.

Image caption Hilton Parr said the removal of vegetation had made paths brighter and safer

"We do not want heroin or any other drug in our community. We know what heroin does to people and families. This needs to be dealt with and these people need to stop what they're doing.

"We don't know who they are. We know they're dangerous. They're not local to Tiger's Bay. There's a fear of the unknown and what these people are capable of."

Neighbourhood watch

Alderman Guy Spence lives in north Belfast and works with people from the close-knit streets.

He said residents do not want to see criminal behaviour near their homes, and are setting up a neighbourhood watch to try to keep their community safe.

"There's lot of reports of activity that have been passed to police, or have come to me and I've passed them on," Mr Spence said.

"It is an issue. It's a problem, and it's a considerable problem for that area.

"It appears to be organised - an organised crime operation that's taking place. It's easy for gangs to come in with drugs to areas that are deprived."

Image caption DUP councillor Guy Spence said the community in north Belfast will stand up to drug dealers

Mr Spence added: "What we're trying to do is regenerate that area through housing and playgrounds and what they're saying is they're concerned.

"They're trying to improve the reputation of the area and things like this maybe don't help that. But there's a vision for the area. And although there may be an issue, we're being prepared to overcome it.

"We're resilient. We've come through a lot as an area and we're prepared stand up, to roll up our sleeves and move our area forward."

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