Belfast Telegraph

Bus tour firm hit by 'arson attack'

The owner of a Belfast bus tour company has vowed he will not be intimidated after a suspected arson attack on his vehicles.

A charred shell is all that remains of the £25,000 double-decker open top bus which was burnt out at a haulage yard on the outskirts of north Belfast last night.

A minibus used to transport schoolchildren, worth an estimated £3,500, and a Taylor trailer valued at about £16,000 were also completely destroyed by fire.

Ben Allen, owner of Allen's Tours, said the attack had been a major blow coming into one of the busiest periods for business.

"Both buses are completely wrecked. There are just the metal frames of the seats left. They are going to have to be scrapped.

"We have the World Police and Fire Games coming to Belfast soon so we will have to get replacements as quick as possible because that is going to be massive for Belfast. We expect to be busy."

The buses had been in for repair at a yard on Carnanee Road, Ballyclare, when they were targeted after 10.30pm last night.

A police spokeswoman confirmed arson was one line of inquiry.

"Police in Newtownabbey are investigating an incident of damage to a number of vehicles at a haulage yard in the Carnanee Road area of Ballyclare last night.

"Police and emergency services attended the scene around 11pm. A Taylor transport trailer valued at approx £16,000, a Daimler bus valued at approximately £25,000, and an LDV Convoy, worth an estimated £3,500, were all completely gutted by fire," she said.

Mr Allen claimed it was the latest in a spate of attacks since his company was set up seven years ago.

Last Friday German tourists escaped injury when windows were smashed by stone-throwing youths as they passed a sectarian flashpoint in west Belfast.

"We just have to apologise to the tourists and try to make light of it. But it's going to get to the stage where someone is going to be injured. Also, it is going to put people off coming to Belfast if they hear about something like that," added Mr Allen.

It has also been alleged that social networking sites have been used to wage a campaign of intimidation since passengers on board an Allen's Tours bus waved Union flags while passing Belfast City Hall where councillors have voted to restrict the number of days the flag is flown.

DUP MLA for north Belfast William Humphrey has called for the attacks to stop.

"It is utterly appalling and outrageous that a legitimate company, its personnel and its property should be targeted in this way. These attacks represent sectarian and political fascism. Those responsible must be condemned by all right-thinking people and all political parties.

"The PSNI must investigate all aspects of this criminal campaign thoroughly, including the threatening comments made on social media," said Mr Humphrey.

Bitter rivalry between bus tour companies in Belfast city centre has on occasion spilled over into violence, with a number of street brawls between employees touting for trade.

There have been allegations of sectarian abuse and claims of surveillance being used as part of wider tensions between companies.

In February a Belfast judge warned that the behaviour of rival bus tour operators was damaging the city's tourist image.

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