Police are investigating two overnight arson attacks on five vehicles in south Belfast - and are appealing for information.
In a statement the PSNI said they 'received a report at 1.45am this morning (23 October), that our Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service colleagues were attending four vehicles on fire in Jerusalem Street.
A Mini was completely destroyed while a Ford Fiesta, Renault Megane and Volkswagen Golf , which had all been parked on Collingwood Avenue were extensively damaged.
In the second incident, which was reported just after 5.30am this morning, police received another report that NIF&RS colleagues were attending another vehicle on fire in nearby Damascus Street. In this incident, a Volkswagen Polo was slightly damaged.'
Chief Inspector Gavin Kirkpatrick said, “This is absolutely wanton destruction of people’s hard earned property. It is also incredibly dangerous as each of these cars were parked in a heavily populated area. The consequences of these vehicle fires could have been catastrophic.
“We are treating these incidents as arson and are following a number of lines of enquiry. We are also making enquiries into any potential links to two other incidents on Monday 7th October this year, when a Renault Clio and Audi which had been parked on Collingwood Avenue and a Volkswagen Sharan parked on Damascus Street were deliberately set on fire.
Chief Inspector Kirkpatrick added, “Police patrolling the South Belfast area overnight responded to a number of calls relating to anti-social behaviour and fireworks being set off, this behaviour must stop. We have stepped up patrolling in the area and will continue to work with partner agencies to address local issues.”
“I appeal to anyone with any information about these incidents to contact police on 101 quoting reference number 79 of 23 October 2019. Alternatively, information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100% anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.”
Earlier SDLP Councillor for Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council Declan McAlinden, who works in the Holylands area, posted graphic pictures online showing the carnage. He posted the photos this morning which he took after arriving for work.
"Working in the Holylands and arrived at this," he said. "Absolutely disgusting."
Alliance South Belfast MLA Paula Bradshaw said: "We know the PSNI increased their presence in the area for the first two weeks the students returned, however, while normal policing levels have resumed in late September, we have seen a continuation of negative behaviour terrorising local residents.
“This anti-social behaviour has now escalated, leading to many waking up today to find their treasured possession has been recklessly destroyed. We are also seeing mass brawls in the middle of the Ormeau Road, with drunk young people staggering about putting themselves and motorists in danger.
“A teenager was also recently robbed at knifepoint. Add to this the great disruption to family life for so many right through the night, as revellers return to their homes from the local bars, including causing damage to cars, fences and gates along the way.
“The level of anti-social behaviour has far exceeded young people having a bit of fun and is now firmly in the realms of criminality. It is the PSNI has primary responsibility for dealing with this and I have written to the local area commander, asking for an increased police presence.
“Belfast City Council is convening a multi-agency meeting at lunch-time on Friday. I will be attending, but I have grown sick and tired of these talking shops. The local residents have suffered far too much and it looks like the incidents are getting more and more sinister and destructive. We need to do more than talk but rather have actions to help the residents.”
SDLP South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna and Botanic Councillor Gary McKeown also condemned the burning of five cars in the Holyland.
Claire Hanna said: "This is a shocking spate of arson attacks to happen in one night and will cause extreme distress for people living in the area. Ongoing vandalism and antisocial behaviour plague the community here, and these incidents will heighten concern."
Cllr McKeown said: "We need a multi-agency, targeted programme of intervention in the area to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour, and I am working with other councillors and officials to prioritise this. The community in the Holyland have been living under terrible stress for too long, and it has to stop.
"I have spoken to police, who have told me that they are putting in place measures to help tackle recurrence, as there was a previous incident of a car being burnt out several weeks ago.
"I urge anyone with information on these incidents to contact police on 101."