Tackling sectarian property crime

The highly significant reductions in paramilitary activity over the past 12 years has not been matched by such a decline in what is described as “low-level” sectarian violence – assaults on individuals, homes, property and street confrontations. Yesterday evening a Ballycastle Chapel was severely damaged in an arson attack. The last two weeks have seen two Orange Halls destroyed. These are nothing new. For example in 1997 Protestant churches, Catholic Chapels, Orange Halls and GAA clubs all were targeted (scroll down). Since 1989, 245 Orange Halls have been attacked with 1 in 4 succeeding in completely destroying a hall. The police clear-up rate for attacks on Orange Halls is believed to be 2% (approximatley 5 out of 245) and there is no particular reason to believe that the clear-up rate for other such atacks is particularly better.

The peristence and in some instances growth of such “low-level” incidents has undermined confidence in the peace process. Also the continuation of the pattern would indicate that existing police approaches are not succeeding in preventing such attacks or catching those culpable. Anecdotal evidence would indicate a lack of commitment or thoroughness to the investigations. Is the low-level nature meaning a low priority attitude is taken? Could the PSNI learn from the approach of the USA authorities to church burnings? The compensation regime also causes problems, should it be reformed so that the victims of such attacks are not punished further?The 1990’s saw a growth in arson attacks on churches with black congregations. The Government’s response was to establish a specialised investigative team to tackle the issue. They developed a range of investigative approaches:

“ATF’s pursuit of arsonists has become institutionalized in the Bureau. Applying these statutes and ATF expertise to house of worship fires has become a top priority. Additionally, ATF has numerous support programs available in the investigation of church arsons. The National Response Team is available to respond within 24 hours and is comprised of agents with specialized training, chemists, canine handler and an explosives enforcement officer. ATF’s laboratory system is one of the finest in the world. With regional laboratories all over the United States, they are available to examine arson debris and detect accelerants and explosive materials.
ATF also utilizes computer technology in the investigation of church fires. The National Repository collects and analyses information on arson incidents and the suspected criminal use of explosives. The Advanced Serial Case Management System (ASCMe) provides on-scene assistance in the collection and collating of large amounts of evidence and data. ASCMe is invaluable in organizing the many pieces of evidence collected in the investigation of church fires. ATF responds to all fires at churches and makes a determination as to which of these resources are needed for a swift arrest and prosecution of the persons responsible.”

They also developed a profile of perpetrators of such attacks:

“The people burning down black churches in the South are generally white, male and young, usually economically marginalized or poorly educated, frequently drunk or high on drugs, rarely affiliated with hate groups, but often deeply driven by racism…”

In their first year of operation they achieved a clear-up rate of 18% (9 times the apparent PSNI rate). The work of the team also included a community relations approach.

The financial cost of such attacks is also a heavy burden. Official compensation is difficult to gain and claims on insurance policies lead to huge premiums or withdrawal of cover. As many of the attacks are on rural isolated halls the DUP is advocating the more relaxed procedures for compensation for damage to agricultural buildings be extended to cover community halls.

  • joeCanuck

    Fair Deal

    I’m not convinced that there is an overall pattern to the attacks. There will certainly be tit-for-tat incidents but I would bet that the vast majority are carried out by teenage hooligans, fuelled by drink or whatever.
    Therefore it will be very difficult to catch them. It would be impractical to have a “watch” system for example.
    It would help if politicians of all stripes would condemn loudly every attack (I don’t think the churchmen have any influence at all).
    I agree that compensation should be more readily available.
    It’s very sad but I think, in the long term, that these sort of events will dwindle. At least I hope so.

  • Miss Fitz

    CCTV?

  • Stephen Copeland

    joeCanuck,

    … I don’t think the churchmen have any influence at all

    I agree. But I also doubt if the condemnations of politicians really carries much weight either.

    I think the solution can only come from the community. Until such time as both sides of the divide feel a sense of shame and responsibility, nothing will change. My preferred solution is that individual communities stand up and put their money where their mouths are – by contributing time, resources and money to the reconstruction of the destroyed premises of the ‘other side’.

    When the destructive vandals realise that it will be their parents and neighbours who will be out in the evenings and weekends helping to repair the damage that they caused, then maybe … just maybe … they will stop and think. If nothing else, it will give both ‘sides’ a sense of responsibility and ownership over all of the premises. I do not really think that no-one knows who is doing these things, and if Sammy or Séamus has spent 8 hours solid repainting the Hall or club house of the ‘other’ tribe, he is going to be pretty pissed off with anyone on his ‘own side’ who then torches it.

    It will require both sides to participate. It would be good even if only one side got the ball rolling, because that alone may shame everyone, but ultimately everyone has to be on board.

  • DK

    Fair Deal,

    Re. the orange hall burnings:

    Your database on the locked link shows that there was a peak during the drumcree standoff years and it has dwindled since then with a small jump last year.

    Is this therefore just a historical blip from Drumcree days that has largely died down and was a product of that time, rather than something which is increasing?

  • joeCanuck

    Good idea Stephen.

    I don’t think CCTV will help Miss Fitz. First they will wear masks. Secondly, the cameras will be the first thing to be attacked. Thirdly, the evidence may well be destroyed by a blaze.

  • TAFKABO

    Are these types of attacks classified as hate crimes by legislation, and if not, why not?

  • spice girl

    condemnation may not reduce these atytacks per se, however, they do enhance confidence in the wider community. Eg, the condemnation BY sf on the recent attacks on orange halls. certainly does no harm and perhaps eventually the message will get home.

  • joeCanuck

    Tafkabo

    Not sure how the legislation is worded over there but here in Canada it is very difficult to prosecute; you have to prove the mental intent. If you don’t have written evidence, there’s not much to go on. We have had very few successful prosecutions. The ones that succeeded were internet postings or where a journalist has been present when the hatred was mouthed.
    Much easier to simply prosecute for an act.

  • fair_deal

    Joe

    “I’m not convinced that there is an overall pattern to the attacks.”

    A pattern at a regional level is probably hard to discern beyond peaks and troughs. Within the regional figures there would be localised one off-incidents, systematic attacks on one community and tit-for-tat attacks.

    “Therefore it will be very difficult to catch them.”

    The higher success in the USA would indicate that it could be possible to catch more than we do at present. If Orange halls are a good indicator of sectarian property crime you stand a 49-1 chance of getting caught here while the US unit was claiming a success rate of just under 4-1 chance of getting caught.

    DK

    The rise in attacks predates Drumcree and there have been two post-Drumcree peaks, 2000 and 2005. Also the broader issue of sectarian property crime hasn’t gone away.

    TAFKABO

    I am not sure if the hate crime stuff is on the statute books but it has been drafted/consulted about. AFAIK present sentencing guidelines enable a judge to give a heavier sentence were a crime has a sectarian motivation.

  • TAFKABO

    Joe.

    Point taken about the difficulties in securing convictions, but I think it makes it more difficult for others to dismiss or excuse these acts when they happen, if it is written in law that they are hate crimes.

  • Dec

    he higher success in the USA would indicate that it could be possible to catch more than we do at present. If Orange halls are a good indicator of sectarian property crime you stand a 49-1 chance of getting caught here while the US unit was claiming a success rate of just under 4-1 chance of getting caught.

    Clearly the location is a factor. It seems most of these attacks takes place in rural/isolated areas and in crimes such as arson(little to no forensic traces) if you’re not caught red-handed and the crime is not witnessed the chances of detection are generally low. Apparently.

  • fair_deal

    Dec

    “Clearly the location is a factor. It seems most of these attacks takes place in rural/isolated areas”

    The american church burnings are predominately in rural/isolated areas too.

    “arson(little to no forensic traces)”

    From reading the description of the Taskforce’s work my hunch is their approaches yield greater forensic evidence from the site and collate evidence well leading to a higher conviction rate.

  • joeCanuck

    Fair deal

    I hear what you’re saying.
    I agree that the police could and should do more.
    I don’t think that we could ever approach the US success rate though.

    The reason? – If my postulation that these are random attacks by teenage hooligans is correct, it’s a lot different from the situation in the US where many, if not most, attacks were organized by the “good ol’ boys”. The police were able to infiltrate those groups.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    TAFKABO: “Point taken about the difficulties in securing convictions, but I think it makes it more difficult for others to dismiss or excuse these acts when they happen, if it is written in law that they are hate crimes.”

    Most of these laws are so poorly written that unless the perpetrator is caught red-handed with hate tracts in their possession and screaming slurs at the target of their hatred, you can’t make the “hate crime” status stick…

    … and even if you do all of the above, sometimes it *still* doesn’t stick. You end up with a great many selective prosecutions, based on the biases and needs of the prosecutor’s office.

    I’d settle for a plain old-fashioned arson conviction and hang the “thought-crime” legislation.

  • fair_deal

    joe

    “if not most, attacks were organized by the “good ol’ boys””

    Really? From the washington post article above “Little evidence has emerged to suggest a national or regional conspiracy, according to investigators.” “Experts on hate crimes, reviewing details of those apprehended so far for the church burnings, suggest few are “hard-core hatemongers” or belong to organized groups”

    It is an old article so maybe evidence appeared after that do you have any weblinks on that?

  • Dec

    “The people burning down black churches in the South are generally white, male and young, usually economically marginalized or poorly educated, frequently drunk or high on drugs, rarely affiliated with hate groups, but often deeply driven by racism…”

    Apparently they have a website

  • joeCanuck

    No Fair Deal,

    I don’t have any hard evidence. I was relying from memory on anecdotal evidence over here.
    I didn’t believe that there was any national or state conspiracy but thought that there was localized organization.
    I stand ready to be corrected.

  • Cathch a grip

    Are we now equating the burning of a place of worship with the destruction of an orange klan hut? DOes nobody have the balls to point out the obvious here?

    Orange klan huts should be destroyed. Did you ever hear of security force personel’s private details or guns being found in a RC church?

  • joeCanuck

    Cathch a grip

    Get a grip guy.

  • joeCanuck

    Fair Deal

    Looks like you’re right and I do stand corrected.

    http://archives.cjr.org/year/96/5/churches.asp

  • fair_deal

    Cheers for the link joe. BTW I wasn’t trying to win or have a go I was genuinely seeking to know more.

  • Greenflag

    stephen copeland ,

    ‘My preferred solution is that individual communities stand up and put their money where their mouths are – by contributing time, resources and money to the reconstruction of the destroyed premises of the ‘other side’. ‘

    That makes sense but I’d also have tougher penalties for those who are found guilty of all sectarian inspired attacks on property be it Orange halls or Catholic schools . The ‘local communities’ need to feel that they have the full support of law enforcement on their side. Not easy in NI I know but it’s not impossible either.

  • Nevin

    The little Catholic church in Glenshesk was an all too easy target and, presumably, it was attacked in retaliation for the burning of the OO hall in Lavin. Let’s hope the words of condemnation will put an end to such dastardly activities but I’m not very hopeful. The low level of prosecution means that the attackers have little to fear from the official justice system and, if the godfathers intervene, suspects can expect bloody treatment from the unofficial justice systems.

  • Prince Eoghan

    I disagree that any comparison should be made between churches and orange halls. One is for praising God, the other is open for debate, something that is never lacking here.

    FD.

    In the words of George Galloway to Saddam(I’m George by the way, miaow);

    “Sir: I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”

    Also tagged on at the end, the attempt to equate Orange halls with community halls is a non-runner I’m afraid. Only the mindset of the deluded would believe that any normal society would swallow such a load of bollocks.

    http://www.dup.org.uk/articles.asp?Article_ID=2254

    Your consistancy is commendable, God loves a tryer.

    Stephen.

    Not with you on with this one at all, for the reasons stated above. Some loon on another thread believes you and I, and various others to be one and the same. Certainly one of his/her more lucid comments.

  • P O’Neil

    How many of the Orange Halls that have been burned down been ‘false flag’ operations ie Orange/Loyalist/Unionist community in order to maintain tention and garner sympathy?? Standard Brit MO, blow something up and blame it on our enemies…

  • joeCanuck

    I nominate P.O’Neill for silly post of the day.

  • Prince Eoghan

    Joe.

    Why?

  • joeCanuck

    PE

    For trying to divert attention from the real causes of this mindless destruction by suggesting that some of it is being done by the owners of these halls. I find that a ridiculous proposition.

  • Prince Eoghan

    Joe.

    Funny how I read it as blaming the Brits and totally missed the bit about the community meaning. Yep, not something I would subscribe to, however the forces of unlawful disorder have everything to gain by heightening tensions. And they come in all kinds of hues.

  • lib2016

    joe,

    The membership of the OO is in freefall and there are steady changes in the distribution of the unionist population.

    It has been reported that population movements and ‘ghettoisation’ is increasing even in the West and the school rolls are falling to the point where state schools may have to be closed. You may have noticed recent threads argung that financial support for RC schools should be removed, forcing Catholic children to attend the state schools which are in practice Protestant controlled.

    It’s unlikely but quite possible that some fires are done by people trying to obscure the fact that the halls are no longer in use due to the same population movements.

    I can remember long ago being surprised to learn that the ‘hoods’ in Divis Towers were planning to burn down their own flats in order to attract the emergency services and have a riot. It takes a lot to surprise me now.

  • fair_deal

    “The membership of the OO is in freefall”

    Evidence for this claim?

    “the school rolls are falling to the point where state schools may have to be closed.”

    Both communities school rolls are falling. Did you not hear about the amalgamations of Catholic schools in East Antrim that Danny O’Connor attacked the church authorities for? In Belfast there will be a 1200 growth of unoccupied places of which 700 approx will be in the maintained sector and 500 in the controlled sector.

    “You may have noticed recent threads argung that financial support for RC schools should be removed, forcing Catholic children to attend the state schools which are in practice Protestant controlled”

    “Non-sectarian” republcianism is as dead and buried as usual I see. No one can subscribe to the principle of a state providing a secular education their only possible motivation is anti-Catholicism.

    NOT.

  • lib2016

    fair_deal,

    1/ Until recently, certainly within the last twelve months we have been entertained with accounts of the Orange Order having an expanding membership of 80,000.

    The latest estimates I’ve seen are 30,000. Certainly anyone who remembers the massive parades of 40 or 50 years ago notices the numerous ways in which the decline is being hidden viz the inclusion of women’s and children’s marches and the splitting up into a number of marchs.

    I’d say that a fall from 80,000 to 30,000 merits my description of ‘freefall’ but if you feel that I’m wrong feel free to correct me.

    2/ I agree that numbers are falling in both education sectors and would personally be happy to see schools amalgamating and becoming part of the Integrated Schools movement. That was very pointedly not what was suggested.

    It’s the oldest dodge in the world to attack anyone who disapproves of supremacist movements as anti whatever. I’m not a Catholic and disapprove of organised religion. Futhermore I’m not anti-white nor anti-Protestant and don’t claim to speak for organised republicanism. I’m certainly anti-unionist, but then most people are.

  • fair_deal

    Lib2016

    1. I asked for evidence not your recollections. The media simply doesn’t know what the membership of the OO is and the figures they spout in the same publication aren’t even consistent.
    2. You don’t need to be a practicising whatever to put a sectarian spin on something. Whatever your agreement about the reality, that is not how you characterised the situation.

  • lib2016

    fair_deal,

    I don’t know how to make it any clearer. Schools are closing and one part of the community is trying to seize a sectarian advantage from the situation.

    It really isn’t good enough to waffle and try to divert attention from my substantive point.

  • “…Yesterday evening a Ballycastle Chapel was…For example in 1997 Protestant churches, Catholic Chapels, Orange Halls and GAA clubs…”

    I know my query is tangential to the topic under discussion (apologies) but is it just me or do many on this site dislike the term chapel in relation to Catholic churches? I’ve never used the term chapel and find it’s used most frequently in Ulster (9 cos.) prob to distinguish from Protestant churches. Opinion please..?

  • Nevin

    And, sadly, now Bushmills.

    Who or what is currently stoking up the flames of sectarian passion? IMO one area the authorities need to look at is paramilitary band culture and its influence on impressionable young people. It seems strange to me that the Parades Commission appears to take such a relaxed view; perhaps the IMC also needs to look at paramilitary role models and their impact on a ‘culture of lawfulness’. Meanwhile we can probably expect elements in the two governments to lobby for further appeasement of the paramilitaries. Will Blair and Ahern give in to or encourage such a scenario?