Playing fields security alert 'an elaborate hoax'

Police at security alert
Police carried out searches at Henry Jones Playing Fields on Sunday [Pacemaker]

A security alert at playing fields on the outskirts of east Belfast has ended after police said it had been "an elaborate hoax".

Police and Army technical officers attended Henry Jones Playing Fields in the Castlereagh area earlier.

The site is used by the East Belfast Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club as well as other sports.

There have been several security alerts at the Belfast City Council-owned facility since 2020.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it received a report of a suspicious object at the playing fields shortly after 11.20 BST on Sunday.

The site was closed and road users were urged to avoid Church Road as searches were carried out

PSNI Inspector Carey said "the object, which has been declared as an elaborate hoax, has been removed and taken away for further forensic examination".

"The playing fields were closed for most of Sunday afternoon and a number of roads were closed," the inspector added.

"Officers have now left the scene, the roads have fully reopened and police would like to thank the local community for their understanding."

Police said enquiries were continuing and appealed for anyone with information to contact them.

The East Belfast GAA club has not commented on the hoax alert.

The club was launched in May 2020, becoming the first GAA club in the east of the city in almost 50 years.

It did not have its own grounds, so the city council reconfigured part of its existing sports facilities in Castlereagh to accommodate the club's training sessions.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has described the alert as "senseless".

Alliance assembly member Peter McReynolds said the GAA club had "received a never-ending slew of threats and security alerts" and he was "absolutely appalled" at Sunday's incident.

East Belfast councillor Pádraig Donnelly, of Sinn Féin, said it was the "latest in a number of despicable attempts to intimidate children and adults playing sport on these pitches and to stop the growth of Gaelic games in this area".

SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite said: "Those who set out to injure or strike fear have nothing to offer.

"Their time is done. They are the past. East Belfast has moved on," he added.