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Crumlin Road court could be Belfast tourist attraction

By Noel McAdam

Published 29/03/2016

Crumlin Road courthouse
Crumlin Road courthouse
An overnight blaze at the derelict Crumlin Road courthouse
Protests sparked by supergrass trials in 1984
The tunnel connecting courthouse with the jail

The First and Deputy First Ministers are backing plans to make Belfast's most notorious former court into a major tourist attraction.

Crumlin Road courthouse is lying derelict in virtual ruins while just yards away the former jail attracts "huge numbers", a Stormont committee was told.

Arlene Foster said the "fabulous development" of the jail - closed as a prison since 1996 - made the former court just across the road "difficult to look at".

Martin McGuinness said American tourists would flock to take 'selfies' in the dock of the former Crown Court.

At present the property - derelict since several fires a number of years ago - remains in private ownership.

A feasibility study commissioned by the Department of Social Development is currently being considered by Minister Lord Morrow.

Three years ago consultants Turley Associates carried out a building condition study and put forward a range of options for the building.

Their preferred option, costing an estimated £12m, envisaged a re-roofing and basic refurbishment of the ground and first floors for a combination of uses such as office space, performance space or cafe.

There would also be reconstruction of Courtroom 1, which could be leased to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to extend the gaol tour which can currently go no further than the tunnel under Crumlin Road. The consultants also recommended that the courthouse be transferred into public ownership.

Turley Associates design director Justine Daly also added that owner Barry Gilligan, of Big Picture Developments - which had at one point wanted to develop the site as a hotel - had fully co-operated with the Stormont-led initiative.

Former Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland said that before the fire damage, the courthouse had been classified as of considerable architectural and historical interest "because of its exceptional features, interiors and environmental qualities".

Scene of many infamous trials

The trials held in the now derelict building were among the largest in British criminal history. In one case in 1983, 22 IRA suspects were jailed for a total of 4,000 years.

In the early 1980s, the courthouse was the scene of a number of infamous supergrass trials, many of which collapsed amid concerns about the credibility of the evidence.

A total of 17 men were executed within the walls of the building between 1854 and 1961.

The last person to be executed at the jail was 26-year-old Newry man Robert McGladdery who was convicted of murdering Co Down girl Pearl Gamble after a dance at Newry Orange Hall.

When the courthouse closed in 1996, one of the jail's notorious inmates, former UVF commander Gusty Spence, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I'll dance on its grave. Shutting it is not enough. I want it razed completely to the ground."

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