COLERAINE Area Commander, Nicky Thompson, fears a young person could be seriously injured if rival factions continue to cause trouble in the town centre and Waterside areas of the town.
His comments follow deep concerns reported to The Coleraine Times by a local mother who claims that the sectarian cat-calling and street fighting could end in a fatality.
Chief Inspector Thompson this week admitted that the problem had the potential to become very serious and urged parents and members of the public to report any incidences of assaults or disorderly behaviour.
“This has been an ongoing problem since the murder of Kevin McDaid. There is a small number of people on both sides who are intent on causing injury to those on the other side of the fence,” said Ch Insp Thompson.
“These young people are stirring things up with provocation and chatter on social networking sites, arranging fights and situations. This has been happening for the past 18 months, it’s nothing new and we are well aware of it.
“The problem with policing it is that it manifests itself spontaneously on these internet sites. It is very important that public tell us what it is happening so that we can keep people safe.
“If we can build up a picture of the times and the days that this is happening then we co-ordinate our patrols to respond to it. But we need people to tell us what is happening.”
Chief Inspector Thompson said that those involved - aged from 13 to 19 - often went to Portrush or Portstewart to cause trouble there too.
“My neighbourhood officers have been in the schools and assembly halls and telling headmasters to get the message to their pupils that it is completely unacceptable for them to be involved in this behaviour and we will deal with it in the strictest manner.
“At the moment it is quite a serious problem but we could have a very serious assault if it continues.”
The police chief added that trouble between the groups often flared during or after band parades and that those involved were “secretly manipulating situations” on the internet.
And he urged parents on both sides of the community to fulfil their responsibilities.
“It is a parent’s responsibility to know where their child is, what company they are keeping and what they are up to.”
In last week’s Times, Alliance Party representative, Graham Scobie highlighted the findings of the “Beyond Belfast” Report which showed that Coleraine lay fourth in a league table of sectarian incidents from 2005 to 2009. The report also dubbed the Bann Bridge as “a contested place”.
Police are investigating an assault in Coleraine.
Some time between 9pm and 9.45pm on Saturday, March 26, a girl aged in her late teens was assaulted by a group of youths close to the petrol station on the Strand Road.
The girl sustained injuries including scrapes and cuts to her neck, back and legs.
Police would like to speak to anyone who witnessed the incident or has information and can be contacted on 0845 600 8000 or anonymously at Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.