Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 16:44 UK

Fears as car crime unit disbanded

Two police officers on foot
The move is aimed at putting more officers on the beat

A special police unit dedicated to tackling joyriding in west Belfast and Lisburn is to be withdrawn.

The PSNI said that disbanding the Auto Crime Team (ATC) would allow them to put more officers on the beat.

A spokesperson said the team had helped reduce vehicle-related crime by 75% in the past eight years.

However, Father Martin McGill, a priest based in west Belfast's Lenadoon area, said he feared lives could be lost if car crime returned to past levels.

"Give this a fortnight, give it a month or a couple of months and we start going back to what we had a number of years ago," he said.

Give this a fortnight, give it a month or a couple of months and we start going back to what we had a number of years ago
Father Martin McGill

"The reality is that basically car crime has come down, we want that not only to continue to drop, we obviously want to eradicate it completely.

"The concern is, it goes right back up again, but more than anything else, that lives are lost."

However, Chief Superintendent Mark Hamilton said police had to adapt to new challenges.

"I'm really sorry that people are so alarmed by this announcement," he said.

"I'd like to try to reassure everyone that this is by no means us standing back from car crime and by no means are we going to let joyriders or death drivers away with their crime.

"We feel that crime has moved on a little bit, that many of these people are now involved in other crimes as well - burglary, anti-social behaviour, drugs - and we've tried to form an enhanced team back here in west Belfast and north Belfast to focus on what these guys are doing."

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