Man charged over Belfast big wheel climb
Published 23/06/2009 | 17:10
A 38-year-old man who climbed 200ft to the top of Belfast's big wheel was charged tonight with disorderly behaviour.
The Belfast Eye in the grounds of City Hall was brought to a standstill with tourists trapped in pods for more than three hours last night.
The man, a member of the Traveller community currently engaged in a caravan protest over accommodation in front of City Hall, was also charged with false imprisonment.
A police spokeswoman said he was due to appear at Belfast Magistrates Court tomorrow.
Streets around City Hall were closed to traffic for several hours while crowds watched the drama unfold.
The man, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, was eventually arrested after a specialist team of firefighters climbed up and got him back to ground level.
The drama unfolded shortly after 6.30pm as commuters and city centre shoppers made their way home past the iconic landmark.
He climbed on top of one of the 42 pods before pulling himself on to the rim of the wheel.
Over the next two hours he clung to the edge of the wheel, occasionally shifting his position or leaning over to look down.
A number of tourists who had been enjoying a trip on the wheel were left stranded in their capsules for the duration of the incident.
Dave Hamilton from Australia said he first became aware of a problem when he saw a pair of jeans dropping to the ground.
“He was just going absolutely nuts, crazy,” he said.
“He was yelling and screaming and slamming his head against the post. I definitely thought he was on something.
“It was very scary, I thought he was going to jump.”
Specially equipped members of the Fire and Rescue Service were deployed to try and bring the man down. They climbed up the middle of the wheel and one of them was seen to have a conversation with the man.
Shortly afterwards he began to climb down of his own accord.
Upon reaching the bottom he was arrested and taken away in a police car.
Members of the Traveller community have been camped outside the front of the City Hall since last week to protest at a lack of sites to accommodate them.
Relatives of the man were among the hundreds of people who gathered behind the City Hall to watch the events.
They did not wish to speak to the press, but said they did not know why he had taken such dramatic action.
One anxious woman who watched from below said: “He was just lying at the top of the wheel with his arms wrapped around it and his legs on it.
“He was there for quite some time.”
Another onlooker said: “It was difficult to see him before he started moving but when he did he was alot clearer.”
The area around City Hall was sealed off by police, with large screens erected to try and shield the immediate site from view.
Belfast councillor and former Lord Mayor Pat McCarthy, who was among those at the scene, said: “I have been up on the wheel myself and you would have to have something wrong with you to want to go up on one of those like that.
“We must be glad that this ended peacefully and that noone was killed or injured.”
A police spokesman said last night that the man had been arrested.
“Shortly after 6.30pm police received reports that a man had climbed onto the Belfast Wheel in the grounds of the City Hall,” he said.
“Emergency services attended the scene along with police negotiators and the PSNI Search and Rescue Team.
“A number of people had to remain in the pods on the wheel during the incident.
“The man was brought down safely by Fire and Rescue personnel shortly after 9pm and was arrested by police.”