MLA Oliver McMullan has called for a “dedicated” police team to be appointed to investigate firearms thefts in the Larne area.
The East Antrim Sinn Fein representative also claimed that crime gangs said to be responsible for a series of thefts of guns could only operate locally with the consent of loyalist paramilitaries.
Last week, the Larne Times reported exclusively that the local district policing partnership has been briefed on a “massive spike” in rural crime and the worrying development that properties where legally-held firearms are kept are among those being targeted. We reported that there had been two separate gun thefts in the borough in a three-day period.
Mr McMullan said: “I would congratulate the police on finally coming out and talking about the issue of stolen firearms in the Press because I have been trying to get answers off them for a number of years and getting only sketchy reports, to say the least.
“I am glad that the police have now spoken publicly about this because by raising these questions I have been accused in the past of being alarmist and giving Larne a bad name. Now that this is finally out in the open, I am asking again that the police tell the public how many firearms thefts there have been in the Larne area over the past five years.
I would also ask how many of the guns were stolen from serving or former members of the police, the Prison Service etc. How many people have been arrested or questioned in relation to the thefts?
“How many stolen guns have been recovered by police - my information is that there have been none. And finally, is there evidence that any of these stolen guns have been used in other crimes?
“I asked all these questions two years ago and apart from a list that made reference to a number of imitation firearms, I am still waiting for the answers. I also gave the police the names of several people suspected of involvement and I never got any feedback. Perhaps now that at least some of the information has been made public the police will give me the answers without having to resort to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.”
Mr McMullan added: “My information is that these stolen guns are being passed on to the crime gangs and these gangs could not operate without the say-so of the loyalist paramilitaries and it’s time that something was done about it, because that is what is giving Larne a bad name.
“The police in Larne can no longer keep the lid on criminality in the area. What they have said at the DPP is exactly what I have been saying for the past few years. I believe we need a dedicated team to come and look at this because it is my belief that guns are being stolen to order. Inspector Rogan said police thought the thieves are acting on information obtained through gun clubs, but that is nothing new and it’s only glossing over the problem.
“He also said the criminals will be caught, but how many have they caught up to now?”
The PSNI has indicated that given the resources that will be required to collate all the information Mr McMullan has requested, it should be the subject of an FOI request.
In response to the MLA’s concerns, Insp Noel Rogan said: “The theft of any firearm is naturally a cause for concern. Police take such crimes seriously and can reassure the public that we are actively investigating these two recent incidents.
“We would also remind owners of the importance of ensuring that all firearms are stored safely and securely.
“Owners should secure all their firearms and ammunition in approved gun cabinets that have been manufactured to the correct standard. Considerable thought also needs to be given to the appropriateness of its location. Those with bolt-action rifles should store the bolt separately.
“For added security, rooms where firearms are being stored should also be fitted with alarm sensors. Keys to gun cabinets should also be kept in a secure place, without a label, and away from the cabinet.”
The PSNI urged that anyone who has any information regarding the theft of firearms locally area should contact the police in Larne on 0845 600 8000 or use the independent charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111.