Belfast Telegraph

Disabled tenant traumatised by east Belfast arson attack

By Allan Preston

A wheelchair user has said he is scared for his own safety after an arson attack forced him out of his home late on Sunday night.

The fire started at around 10.45pm in apartment blocks owned by Helm Housing in The Mount area of east Belfast near the Woodstock Road.

Three fire engines rushed to the scene and residents were evacuated for at least two hours. No-one was injured.

Police are investigating and treating it as a malicious arson attack with intent to endanger lives.

It's understood the fire began inside one of the ground floor flats.

Last night a padlock was on the door with water damage visible around the frame.

A picture from inside the flat shows the destruction the flames were wreaking before fire crews arrived.

One resident aged 50 who uses a wheelchair only managed three hours sleep because of the disturbance.

He told the Belfast Telegraph he was horrified to open his door on Sunday night to thick plumes of toxic smoke.

"I thought my neighbour had burnt the toast again until I opened the door and the hall was filled with thick putrid smoke with a rubbery smell," he said.

"I got out straight away and the fire brigade were there and helped me out. It's the smoke that gets you first, especially when it's putrid.

"It's very upsetting when there's three fire crews and people are woken up. There's gas pipes outside and people on the top floor were trapped with the thick smoke, they couldn't see the hall."

He claimed this was the second time this year there had been a fire alert in the apartments, with six in total over the past five years.

Leonard Hill (32) lives facing the apartments.

"It's not fair on residents," he said. "They've been set on fire before. It's really concerning for people living here. You couldn't even see through those windows for the smoke on Sunday night."

In October last year the top floor of another apartment block in The Mount - Dunlop House - was completely gutted in an arson attack. Two men aged 32 and 20 were charged shortly afterwards.

In a subsequent court case, the flats were described as "party houses" with at least two in progress on the night of the fire.

A PUP councillor for the Titanic area, Dr John Kyle, said he was aware of frequent difficulties in the area and feared there was "potential for a major casualty".

"The Mount is an area where there are significant social problems," he said. "There have been tenants with addiction and mental health problems for many years, so some of the associated problems that come with that would be common there. It's an area that needs support."

Mr Kyle said that, with many residents living in supported housing, he called on Housing associations like Helm "to provide maximum support to their tenants because of the difficulties in the area."

Detective Sergeant Michael Hawthorne said: "We are appealing to anyone that may have any information or to anyone that may have witnessed any suspicious activity in the area at the time to contact Detectives from Reactive and Organised Crime Branch at Musgrave Police Station on the non-emergency number 101, quoting reference 1296 on 11/12/16.

"Or, alternatively, if someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details they can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111."

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said they were unable to comment on the incident while a criminal investigation is ongoing.

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