Belfast Telegraph

Climate of fear gripping Larne as latest arson guts hair salon

By Victoria Leonard

People in Larne say they are living in fear following a weekend of arson attacks which are thought to have been sparked by a falling out between two individuals.

In the most recent incident a car was driven backwards into a hair salon on the town’s Main Street and set on fire.

The blaze at around 9.20pm on Monday causing extensive damage.

Multiple cars were also torched in attacks in the port town over the weekend.

Police believe one man drove to the hair salon in the grey Nissan Primera involved in the blaze before fleeing on a blue and white motorcycle driven by a second individual.

Co-owner of Hair by JAKK Kerri Withers spoke out, saying she was “absolutely devastated and in shock”, but thanked the local community for rallying around to support her and her colleagues.

A Justgiving page established to raise £4,000 to help the owners “get back into the shop as quickly as possible” has been inundated with messages of support.

Speaking on social media on Monday, Ms Withers said: “Too many messages to reply to tonight, thanks to each and every one of you for kind words and support.

“Says more about our wee town than what happened tonight.”

Owner of NFU Mutual Larne James McCluggage, whose business overlooks the charred remains of the salon, said the attack was the latest in “a long line of crimes” in the town recently. “In the last six months we have paid out over £150,000 in claims, mainly due to rural crime, and we have also paid out for some of the aggravated burglaries which have occurred in the town,” he said. “For me, it is embarrassing. We have a man over from England and we are trying to promote this place to get him over here to work, and this was the first thing he saw.

“Larne is a beautiful place, you have everything you could need on the doorstep, but I think more could be done by the police.

“Crazy incidents like this give the place bad Press and don’t help to promote the town for investment purposes.”

NFU Mutual financial adviser Paul Tyrrell, who was visiting Larne before deciding on whether to move there permanently from Teesside, said it “wouldn’t put him off” but that such incidents “won’t do the reputation of Northern Ireland any good”. “As I drove my wife along Main Street this morning the remains of the car in the shop were the first thing we saw,” he said.

“But things like this happen everywhere. I think if people were sensible enough it wouldn’t put them off coming here.”

Co-owner of The Book Nook, Joanne Liddle, said that the attack had caused panic among residents of nearby Quay Street, who heard a group of young girls screaming at the sight of the blazing vehicle.

“Larne seems to be getting more and more bad publicity and no one likes it,” she added.

“Everybody is in shock at what has happened.”

The manager of another Main Street business, who did not wish to be named, witnessed the fire as he prepared to leave work on Monday night. “I was worried that the fire could spread. This isn’t great for the town. It’s not good to have that on your doorstep. Anyone could have been walking past and been knocked down by the car,” he said.

One local resident in his 60s, who also did not wish to be named, branded the attacks “a disgrace” and said that Larne was “getting a bit of a reputation”.

“There is a climate of fear in the town and you have to watch who you are speaking to. People feel intimidated,” he claimed.

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Dunny McCubbin said police were investigating whether the recent attacks were due to a “a falling out between two individuals”.

He described the attack on the hair salon as “mindless and reckless”, slamming those responsible as “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,” he said. “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.”

Two men in their thirties have been arrested as part of the police investigation. A 30-year-old arrested on Saturday was subsequently charged with GBH and possession of an offensive weapon.

He is expected to appear in court in Ballymena on May 11.

And a 32-year-old who was detained on Monday has been charged with common assault and making threats to damage property. He is due to appear at Ballymena Magistrates Court on May 4. It is understood that paramilitary involvement is not thought to be a factor.

Meanwhile last night police in Larne arrested a 28 year-old man and a 31-year-old man both on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life.

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