Belfast's Crumlin Road court to become hotel - sold to Signature Living
Belfast's Crumlin Road courthouse has finally been sold and will be turned into a new hotel, it can be revealed.
The backdrop of the trials involving some of Northern Ireland's most horrific cases, including the Shankill Butchers' trial, has been shut since 1998.
Lawrence Kenwright, who heads up Signature Living, told the Belfast Telegraph just last month about plans to build five hotels here, including a George Best-themed development.
He also said he had been trying to buy the Crumlin Road courthouse for some time.
Now, it is understood a deal has been finally been secured to take on the building and turn it into a new hotel, which could include 60 bedrooms.
Last month, Mr Kenwright said: "We've been after the Crumlin Road courthouse for some time.
"We see that as the last building and the last piece in the jigsaw for Belfast."
Mr Kenwright was unavailable for comment last night.
Crumlin Road courthouse is one of the most iconic landmarks of the Troubles, but since it was closed in 1998, after 150 years of use, the building suffered major damage, including arson attacks.
The trials held in the now derelict building were among the largest in UK criminal history.
In the early 1980s, the courthouse was the scene of a number of infamous supergrass trials, many of which collapsed amid concerns about the credibility of the evidence.
And in one 1983 case, 22 IRA suspects were jailed for a total of 4,000 years.
Just last year, a Stormont department said it was working to smooth the path of redevelopment for Crumlin Road courthouse.
Planning permission was previously granted in 2004 to convert it into offices, and then in 2007 to a 161-bedroom hotel.
However, neither of these proposals came to fruition, and in March 2009, a malicious fire caused extensive internal damage before two more fires later that year caused more damage to the roof.
Meanwhile, Mr Kenwright has also said he is planning five new hotels in Belfast over the next two years.
That includes one inspired by Manchester United and Northern Ireland football legend Best.
Speaking about plans for his George Best-themed hotel last month, Mr Kenwright said it will follow the template of his Shankly Hotel in Liverpool, which is based on the Anfield club's legendary manager.
"We are using the knowledge that we have gleaned from the Shankly Hotel," he said.
"Every room has a story of an individual that knew him.
"It's about unearthing those stories... not so much the main life stories that everyone knows.
"This is about the stories you don't know about."
The hotel could boast up to 100 rooms, he added.
The idea has the backing of Best's family.
"They have signed a contract with us. They love it," Mr Kenwright said.
"They have been to the Shankly Hotel."
He currently owns a number of hotels in his home city.