Racist graffiti investigated at five sites in Antrim

Racist graffiti has been sprayed at multiple sites in Antrim, just a week after eight families were intimidated out of their homes in the town.

Swastikas have appeared in the Stiles estate, off Fountain Hill road and on the side of the old Antrim cineplex.

The perimeter of a new housing estate has also been daubed with swastikas and refences to the neo-Nazi group Combat 18.

The appearance of the graffiti is "particular sinister" and has "upset members of the Jewish community", Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) councillor Roisin Lynch said.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said they are investigating five reports of racist graffiti and are treating them as racially motivated hate crimes.

The area's new MP, Robin Swann, has requested a meeting with officers to discuss the issue.

Local residents have told BBC News NI it is "unnerving".

In a statement, police said they received reports of racist graffiti daubed on properties in five areas of the town between Sunday and Monday morning.

The areas affected were Parkhall Road, Fountainhill, Craigmore Park, Market Street area and the Castle Mall.

"Local police will work with partners to have the graffiti removed, and a noticeable policing presence will continue this week in and around the Antrim and wider area," the statement added.

'Insult to democracy'

Mr Swann, from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) was elected as the MP for South Antrim in last week's general election.

Speaking at Stormont, he said he was "fully aware" of the graffiti issue that had arisen on Monday morning.

"We've asked now for a meeting with the PSNI so we can get in to discuss the actual facts behind it," Mr Swann told reporters.

"But the sectarian nature and the racist nature of the paintings and graffiti that has been in there this morning, Combat 18, swastikas painted on any house in Northern Ireland is an insult to democracy."

The SDLP's Roisin Lynch added: "It must end now, this tiny minority do not speak for the people of Antrim and we cannot allow them to run roughshod over this community."

Shared housing plan

The new housing estate, which is still under construction, is being developed by the Choice housing association.

Last year, the firm announced it was building a £6.2m "shared housing development" called Fountain Hill at Stiles Way in Antrim.

The plan consisted of 34 homes which were to provide accommodation for families, wheelchair users and people aged over 55.

Following the graffiti attack, a Choice Housing spokesperson told BBC News NI the firm was "committed to providing secure, affordable, quality accommodation to meet the diverse needs of our tenants".

They said "the safety and security of tenants is of paramount importance to us" and they asked tenants to contact them with any concerns.

Choice's spokesperson added: "These issues require a multi-agency approach and we are working with relevant stakeholders to support resolutions."

'Tsunami of racism'

Swastikas and C-18 graffiti on Antrim's Castle Mall
Antrim's Castle Mall shopping centre was also targeted [BBC]

It is not just housing which has been targeted by racist graffiti.

Jaqueline Barnes and David Edmont are joint managing directors of the Bridge Association, a not-for-profit training organisation with a base in Antrim.

Monday was the first day of trading in the Castle Mall for their Hug a Mug ability cafe which is staffed by people with learning disabilities.

At the back of their shop, also in the mall, the external wall was sprayed with Nazi symbols wall overnight.

They said they felt angry and tearful when they arrived on Monday morning to discover the markings.

Mr Edmont described recent intimidation in Antrim as a "tsunami of racism".

Jaqueline Barnes and David Edmont
Jaqueline Barnes and David Edmont's ability cafe was sprayed with graffiti [BBC]

Hate crime attacks 'intensified'

The graffiti followed several reports of racist and sectarian attacks in Antrim over recent weeks.

At the end of last month, a bungalow specially designed for nine-year-old disabled boy was one of two new-build properties that were damaged in Antrim.

Jessy suffers from spina bifida and has a range of other complex medical needs which require him to use a wheelchair.

Police said four people, dressed in dark clothing, threw objects at the house in the Reford Grove development in the early hours of Sunday, 30 June.

They are treated that incident as a sectarian-motivated hate crime.

Then last week, an African family told BBC News NI they were leaving the home they had lived in for almost two years because of increasing racist intimidation.

The family said the intimidation intensified after anti-immigrant posters were erected in the Ballycraigy area at the end of May.

Two weeks later, 6 June, a large black X was spray-painted on their living room window.

On 26 June, a printed poster was taped to the window which read: “It is not racist to look after your own.” A Northern Ireland flag was printed below the message.

On 2 July, the windows of a car belonging to the couple were smashed.

The family has now moved out and said they will not be returning to the area.

Seven other families said they had also left their homes because of racist intimidation.

Their names were withheld to protect their identities.