Police investigating attack on SDLP candidate as a hate crime

Elsie Trainor, a candidate in the Belfast South constituency, was attacked by two youths on Monday evening.

Rebecca Black
Wednesday 13 April 2022 14:11 BST
Elsie Trainor (Liam McBurney/PA)
Elsie Trainor (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

Police are investigating an attack on an SDLP election candidate in Belfast as a hate crime.

Elsie Trainor, a candidate in the Belfast South constituency, said she was attacked by two youths who also tried to snatch her mobile phone.

She was pushed against a fence and subjected to sectarian abuse, police said, after she chased the pair who, she said, were removing her election posters.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland have called for information and any potential witnesses to come forward.

Officers have received 41 reports relating to election posters being damaged, removed or destroyed at various locations across Northern Ireland, between March 22 and April 11. A number of parties have said their posters were among those targeted.

Chief Superintendent Nigel Goddard said officers are committed to ensure all candidates can participate in the Stormont election free from harassment, intimidation and other forms of criminality.

He said police have contacted the political parties to offer briefing sessions and information for candidates on crime prevention and personal safety.

The PSNI said two males were seen removing election posters from a lamppost in the Ravenhill Road area shortly before 5.30pm on Monday.

“A short time later, a female was assaulted in the Ormeau Park area. She was pushed against a fence by a male, who was described as being around 5ft 8in in height, approximately 18 years old, and dressed in a light grey jacket,” the force said.

“She was then pushed by a second male, who was described as being around the same age, approximately 5ft 10in in height, and wearing a dark grey jacket with the hood up, black framed glasses, and a face mask.

“The female was also subjected to sectarian abuse during the incident, and was understandably left shaken. Thankfully she did not sustain any physical injuries.”

The tone of this election is worrying

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

The PSNI said officers are treating the incident as a hate crime.

They have urged anyone who witnessed it, or has any dashcam or mobile footage or any information which could assist, to contact officers on 101, quoting reference number 1437 of 11/04/22.

Ms Trainor tweeted on Tuesday: “Where to start. I gave chase as I wanted the police know which exit to lift them from. They assaulted me & after that tried to rob my phone.

“We need common ground politics here. We need to not fail these thugs as much as anyone else. Polarisation is wrecking our present & future.”

The attack was condemned by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who said: “The tone of this election is worrying. All political leaders need to think about whether they are showing leadership or adding to the problem.”

He called Ms Trainor an “absolutely fearless democrat”, tweeting: “She’ll not be moved by anyone.”

There must be a better way

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie

Matthew O’Toole, the incumbent SDLP MLA in the constituency, condemned the attack, saying: “This shouldn’t happen in a democracy.”

Belfast South MP Claire Hanna tweeted: “We in the SDLP knew Elsie had guts when we selected her but she shouldn’t have had to display it like this.

“There’s a toxicity in this election & we need a real public conversation about protecting democracy & the ability to participate in elections without intimidation or threat.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie joined in the condemnation, calling the incident “absolutely awful”.

He said he hoped the police find the perpetrators, and tweeted: “These posters are just not worth the agro each election. There must be a better way.”

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