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Saturday, 16 September 2017

Probation staff warned of increased threat from dissident republicans

Written by Deborah McAleese

Probation officers and staff in Northern Ireland have been warned by police they are under an increased threat from dissident republican terrorists.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) contacted the Probation Board to advise that the threat level against some members has been raised, particularly in republican areas.

Board chiefs have briefed its 400 members of staff about the threat.

Security advice has been provided to all staff and the PSNI is to provide personal security at some sites.

The Probation Board confirmed they were advised about the risk on Thursday. The organisation said the increase in risk does not apply uniformly across PBNI and attacks against the majority of staff and premises remain unlikely.

Those living in and premises located near republican areas are thought to be at greater risk.

PBNI said it has been working closely over the last 24 hours with the Department of Justice and police.

PBNI chief executive Cheryl Lamont said work will continue despite the threat.

"The Probation Board for Northern Ireland provides a public service to all local communities. Indeed our staff are part of the local community.

"As trained social workers, probation officers provide services to tackle addiction, mental health problems and deal with domestic violence and sexual offending which impact on all communities across Northern Ireland.

"Everything we do is about protecting people and ensuring there are fewer victims of crime," said Ms Lamont.

"Therefore it is extremely disappointing that we have been informed that the level of threat of attacks against PBNI has been assessed as having increased.

"We will continue to work with the vulnerable, those who have offended and those who have been victims of crime just as we have done over the last 40 years," she added.

Board chairwoman Vilma Patterson said: "Probation staff, who are some of the most dedicated and committed people I have ever met work tirelessly to make communities here safer.

"Every probation officer is trained to assess and manage risk and reduce the number of victims of crime. Therefore this news is all the more frustrating and disappointing."

She added: "The Board which is made up of representatives from the entire community stands firm with colleagues throughout the probation service".

Former justice minister Claire Sugden said she was deeply concerned by the threat.

"This is a new threat. People are taking advantage of the political vacuum.

"We need to be aware of the problem that exists when there is no political leadership," she said.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government since the collapse of powersharing at Stormont in January.

Ms Sugden added: "The Probation Board work very hard to protect the community, to keep our community safe. This threat against them is cowardly and deeply concerning."

Alliance MLA David Ford, who was the region's first Justice Minister, said: "I utterly condemn those who are now threatening this group of public servants and call on them to immediately lift the threat and allow Probation staff to work freely without hindrance.

NI's Chief Social Worker Sean Holland (pictured), said: "As Chief Social Worker for NI I am deeply concerned and disappointed at the fact the probation service has been informed the level of risk of attack against it has increased.

"Social workers in probation play a key role in working to change people’s lives and make NI safer.

"They have been carrying out their role across NI without threat for over 40 years and this development is of concern. I want to express my support for all PBNI staff at this time.”

Public services union NIPSA demanded the threat be withdrawn immediately.

General Secretary Alison Millar added: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms a threat against any worker but especially those providing an excellent public service for all our communities."

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