Asta's Glam Factory destroyed in racist arson attack: Community rally in support of owner
A community rally has been held in support of a Lithuanian businesswoman whose salon was destroyed in a racially motivated hate crime.
Shortly before midnight on Monday police received a report that a group of males had set the premises on fire.
It is believed that the shutters on the premises were forced up and an accelerant poured inside and then set alight.
Around 200 people joined a protest on Tuesday evening outside Asta's Glam Factory in east Belfast.
The salon's owner said she appreciated the support that people had shown.
"It's really nice to know that there are so many people here tonight who came out to support me," she said.
Organiser and Youth Against Racism activist Courtney Robinson said: "The turnout tonight, at such short notice, shows that the people of east Belfast are disgusted by the racist attacks being carried out by a tiny minority of cowards. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Asta and all our neighbours from other countries.
"Working class people need to stand united against racist thugs, but also against the conditions which allow racism to breed - unemployment, poverty and hopelessness. That means we need to fight against austerity, fight for decent jobs, affordable homes and a future for all."
The rally was also addressed by Patrick Mulholland (President, NIPSA), Cllr John Kyle (PUP), Cllr Gerry Carroll (People Before Profit) and Cllr Ross Brown (Green Party).
PUP councillor Dr John Kyle and community activist William Ennis also helped organise the rally at the premises on Castlereagh street.
Dr Kyle said: "We are doing it to show support for Asta whose business was attacked. We are doing it because the community in east Belfast is really a very welcoming community I think these sorts of things don't represent the true feelings and spirit of people in east Belfast.
"We are doing it because we feel it's important to stand against intimidation and racism if it is a racist attack. And we are doing it because this is a young woman who has been living in Belfast for six years, who has worked hard to establish her own business it's the sort of thing we want to see happening in Belfast.
He added: "We want people to be able to set up their own business and to create employment and support that. We are giving folks an opportunity to say we stand with Asta and support her and that she's welcome to live and work in east Belfast."
Girl who's nail bar in east belfast only opened a week completely destroyed last night by arsonists on her knees outside heartbroken. .SCUM— ian_shanks_ (@shanksybraniel) April 14, 2015
Well done to the people of East Belfast turning out tonight to support their neighbour and saying no to hate crime. pic.twitter.com/0GKatl9l8m— Stephen Martin (@ACCMartinPSNI) April 14, 2015
A fundraising page via GoFundMe has already raised more than £4,000.
Police believe the males may have fled the scene in a black 4 x 4 type vehicle.
Detective Inspector Jenna Fitzpatrick said: "The premises were extensively damaged by the fire and smoke.
"There was no one in the premises at the time of the incident."
Initially it was thought that the owner of the business was Polish.
Community worker Ian Shanks described the owner on her hands and knees in tears outside the business.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: "She was distraught, her business trashed.
"She was on her hands and knees outside it.
"Everything she has put in just destroyed
"Just taken away from her in a matter of minutes."
Meanwhile police have held a press conference into the recent spate of attacks on foreign nationals across Northern Ireland.
DUP councillor Gavin Robinson called the attack "utterly disgraceful".
He said: "There is little doubt that this attack is a racially motivated hate crime. It is utterly disgraceful that anyone who is operating a business in our city, contributing the economy and to society should have their property attacked by faceless thugs.
"Those responsible must be brought to justice and face the full weight of the law.
"I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the people of East Belfast will stand in solidarity with those who want to make a positive contribution to our community and against those who use the cover of darkness to terrorise and intimidate."
Alliance party deputy leader Naomi Long said she was shocked that the business had been targeted in a racially motivated attack.
She said: "There can be no justification for such a crime.
“I would like to offer my support to the owners of this beauty salon. Nobody deserves to have their property targeted in such a despicable attack. We must make East Belfast and Northern Ireland an open and welcoming place to people from all backgrounds.
“Those responsible must be brought to justice in the courts, so I would urge anybody with any information about this attack to contact the police.”
UUP Councillor Sonia Copeland was with the owner of the business last night and described the scene as "disgusting".
She said: “Whoever is responsible for setting fire to the salon should be utterly ashamed of themselves. I visited the property late last night and the scene was disgusting. Those responsible have not only succeeded in destroying a business, they have also lost jobs in the area.
“My thoughts are with the owner of the premises and her staff today. She is well known for the hours she pours into her business and to think she has been targeted because of her nationality is sickening.
“At a time when we are trying to attract investment into East Belfast idiotic acts like this set this work back. These people need to ask themselves what they contribute to their community.
“This was a hate crime and those responsible should face the full consequences of their cowardly actions. I appeal to anyone who has any information on this contact the PSNI immediately. "
Sinn Fein councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile there was "no place for racism in our society".
"This attack was totally wrong and must be condemned.
"Thankfully no one was injured in this incident but it will leave the business owner with a costly repair bill.
"There can be no place for racism in our society.
"The fact that a number of men were involved in this incident is very worrying and suggested a degree of organisation.
"Those who carried out this attack have nothing to offer the community and are not welcome in East Belfast.
"I would urge anyone with information on this attack to bring it forward to the PSNI to ensure those responsible can be brought to justice."
Police are appealing to anyone who may have witnessed this incident or this car to contact Detectives at Musgrave on the non-emergency number 101.
Or, if someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details they can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111.