Group pulls plug on Belfast CCTV system

Directors of the group running the state-of-the-art operation dramatically pulled the plug after a long running bust-up over funding involving the city council, police, traders and the Northern Ireland Office.

And as the blame game got under way today, there were fears of a potential crime increase.

As the Belfast Telegraph first revealed, there have been warnings for several months that the organization which heads up the operation, Lisburn Commerce Against Crime, was facing a cash crisis and several directors had resigned.

And Lisburn City Council accused both police and the NIO of failing to provide extra cash after meetings with Security Minister Paul Goggins and Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland.

But town traders pointed the finger at councillors who they accused of creating a "mess" over how the CCTV cover is organized - and warned visitors to the city will now be deterred.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland, which already provides assistance in kind by allowing the system to use the city's police base, said they could not divert cash from other policing commitments.

The council's chair of its economic development committee, Alan Ewart, admitted the closedown was a "disaster".

Councillors had agreed to stump up almost Ł100,000 with a further Ł25,000 from the private sector - if the PSNI and NIO would meet a shortfall of almost Ł70,000.

"We probably all share some degree of responsibility here but council officials insisted the local government auditor would not allow us to pump money into a project that was going down the tubes," Mr Ewart said.

"If the police had come forward with funding for even one or two officers salaries, then the system would still be operational. This is a disaster for everyone in Lisburn."

The directors of Lisburn Commerce Against Crime, a charity run by a voluntary board, which switched off the system yesterday, said they were " deeply saddened".

"We have tried for months to gain funds from the NIO and the PSNI to no avail. The council has generously offered Ł99.8K but this falls short of the monies needed to run the system and therefore the company's operations will be suspended today," the directors said.

While the Assembly has no direct role, with policing the responsibility of the NIO, Minister Edwin Poots, who chairs the separate Lisburn City Management Group, said it was "deeply disappointing" that the police had "procrastinated".

"If a solution is to be found and CCTV is to continue, the ball is very clearly in the court of the PSNI to come forward with solutions that are deliverable," he said.

In a statement, the PSNI said: "The responsibility does not fall to any single agency. CCTV is beneficial not only in obtaining evidence of crime and criminality but also providing reassurance for local businesses and people using the commercial areas. Police and their partner agencies are committed to making Lisburn a safer place for everyone. Every effort will be made to ensure that we can continue to provide an effective CCTV service to the local community."