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Car reversed into Larne hairdressers in arson attack linked to gang feud, says Sinn Fein

By Allan Preston and Brett Campbell

A hairdressing salon in Larne town centre was destroyed in a fire on Monday night in what has been claimed as a “deliberate attack linked to a gang feud”.

The incident follows three days of arson attacks in Larne and a suspected petrol bomb attack against a mother and her children yesterday morning.

Fire crews were still attending the blaze of the two storey premises on Main Street late last night while a heavy police presence remained in the area.

A car was reversed directly into the salon and set alight. The blaze has caused extensive damage to the presmises.

Police said it's believed one male travelled to the scene in the vehicle, a grey Nissan Primera, and then fled on a blue and white motorcycle driven by a second individual.

Officers have called the attacked "mindless and reckless".

Detective Chief Insepctor Dunny McCubbin said: "This was a mindless and reckless attack by individuals who have shown no concern for the people of Larne and no respect for the business people trying to make a living in the town.

"This business has been devastated by this attack and there can be no excuse or justification for what happened here last night.

"We are currently investigating a possible link between this incident and other attacks on vehicles in the town over the course of the weekend. At this time it’s thought a falling out between two individuals may be the catalyst for these incidents however as the investigation is at a very early stage it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further on that particular line of enquiry."

Police said two men in their thirties have been arrested as part of our overall investigation. A 30-year-old man was arrested on Saturday and subsequently charged with GBH and Possession of an offensive weapon.

He is expected to appear in court in Ballymena on May 11. The second male, 32, was detained yesterday. He has since been charged with common assault and making threats to damage property. He is due to appear at Ballymena Magistrates on May 4.

All charges will be reviewed by the PPS.

Former Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan said he was furious over the attacks saying Larne was “getting more like Beirut every day”.

“There’s a direct connection to this attack and the cars burnt out in Larne over the weekend,” he told the Belfast Telegraph last night.

“This car was driven deliberately into the hairdressers shop and the people in the car got out and set it on fire. I feel very mad and angry about this. I’ve been going on about this for years, unless the criminality is caught by the scruff of the neck in Larne it’s going to get out of hand.”

Mr McMullan added he had also heard another house in the Craigy Hill area of the town (around a mile from the hairdressers) was targeted in a petrol bomb attack just before 11pm last night, but this was yet to be confirmed.

Asked what was behind the crime spree he commented: “It’s a major gang leader who I believe has been arrested by the police tonight. He is exerting his authority over another family, put it that way. It’s the same people doing all of this, the dogs in the street could name you every one of them doing it.”

He called for community policing to be restored to Larne.

“These criminals know there’s no police in Larne and they can do all this with impunity. That hairdressers is in the centre of Larne town not the outskirts, now can you imagine that happening in any other town?” he said. “It’s getting more like Beirut every day and the people of Larne, no matter what side, they don’t deserve this and they shouldn’t have to live with this.”

In the early hours of yesterday morning a mother and her young children in Larne escaped injury in a suspected petrol bombing.

The front window of a house on Mill Road was smashed during the incident and police recovered a petrol-soaked rag, possibly from an unlit petrol bomb, from the porch of the property close to where a vehicle was targeted.  

Larne councillor Paul Reid condemned the attack. 

“It beggars belief that someone would attack people’s homes like this,” he said.

“There was a mother in that house with her young children. We are very lucky that we aren’t looking at disaster today.”

A second car was targeted on Bryan Street in the latest of a spate of arson attacks in the town. Mr Reid, a local DUP representative, said he understands that police are following a positive line of inquiry but also urged anyone with information to come forward.

East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson has strongly condemned those behind continued arson attacks in Larne.

Describing the situation as ‘extremely serious’, the Alliance man has appealed for anyone with information to contact the police immediately, as premises in the town centre became the latest target of those orchestrating the attacks.

Detective Chief Inspector Dunny McCubbin said officers are investigating a link between these incidents and similar attacks on vehicles on Saturday and Sunday. Five vehicles were extensively damaged over the weekend and a failed attempt was made to set a sixth on fire.

UUP councillor Andrew Wilson also condemned what he described  as “a really bizarre series of attacks”.

He added: “It certainly looks like it is being orchestrated. I would just appeal for anyone with information to contact police.

“It is very important that whoever is doing this is arrested and hopefully put behind bars.”

If you have any information that could help the police investigation you can contact police on 101.

If someone would prefer to provide information without leaving their name they can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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