01/04/2011

Arson Suspected As Blaze Almost Claims Life

Police are investigating two suspected arson attacks in a residential area of east Belfast.

In the latest incident, a house at St Leonard's Crescent was almost destroyed in a blaze.

Occupant Stephen McElwee was asleep when his home went up in flames. His neighbours raised the alarm and he was able to escape unhurt, but the fire destroyed almost everything he owns.

Mr McElwee - who said he had not slept in the two nights since the blaze - commented: "It was terrifying. I didn't believe it until I saw the flames. The house is completely gutted. It might have to be pulled down. That hurts. I like living here and I am not going to move out for them."

Residents on the street want alley gates installed to restrict access to the backs of their homes.

They have been told that there is no money to pay for gates and if they want them, they will have to foot the bill, estimated at between £8,000 and £9,000, themselves.

Police said initial investigations suggested that something may have been thrown at Mr McElwee's house and that an oil tank went on fire.
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Alliance representative Laura McNamee has joined residents in condemning the attack and calling for a gate to be installed in the alley between Chadolly Street and St Leonard’s Crescent.

Ms McNamee believes an alley gate could help prevent such attacks in future as the open alley currently provides an escape route for those involved in such incidents.

The Alliance representative commented: “This was an appalling attack and my thoughts are with the man whose house has been gutted in this incident. I was extremely shocked to learn of these incidents, particularly given the number of older people in the street who would have difficulty in quickly leaving their home in the event of a fire. This very nearly could have been the case last night, had it not been for vigilant neighbours.

“Given the threat that these attacks posed, I asked Council officials to add this street to the list of places that would get alley gates installed and we are currently exploring the possibility of donating equipment and money towards the cost of residents erecting gates themselves. I understand some local organisations have already offered to donate towards this initiative. I have also asked the Housing Executive if they would consider installing CCTV in the area in an effort to identify those behind the arson attacks.”

Ms McNamee joined police in appealing for anyone with information to please come forward.

(JG)

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