Belfast Telegraph

Everglades Hotel attack: Business as usual vows Sir William Hastings

By Donna Deeney

Hotelier Sir William Hastings is a man who could be forgiven for thinking his days staring at the damage of a bombed hotel were over.

But the stalwart of Northern Ireland's hotel industry yesterday found himself stepping into the all-too familar territory of the aftermath of an explosion.

It wasn't lost on those surveying the damage wreaked on the Everglades Hotel in Londonderry that Sir William is also the owner of Belfast's Europa hotel – once the most bombed hotel in the world which was attacked 28 times during the Troubles.

Having started his hotel business in the late 60s, he successfully steered the hotel through the Troubles when very few others were bothering with the tourism business in strife-torn Northern Ireland.

But just as he picked up the battered shell of the Europa in the 1990s, Sir William also vowed to pick up the pieces of the Everglades when he arrived to see the damage for himself yesterday morning.

With the trademark attitude that got him through the previous unrest, he vowed that his hotel would be business as usual from today.

Standing yards from charred remains of the hotel's reception area, the legendary hospitality boss also hit out at those responsible for fire-bombing the Everglades.

"It is extremely sad that the professional staff and management of the Everglades Hotel have had to deal with such a traumatic experience," he said.

"I would like to praise the general manager, Neil Devlin, and his excellent team for acting so quickly and professionally to avert a major atrocity."

He spoke of his fears over the potential damage to Derry's image.

"This has caused real damage to the prosperity of the city from both a commercial and tourism point of view," Sir William added.

"The main loser here is the city of Derry-Londonderry, a city which does not deserve this after the excellent work in attracting more and more visitors in recent years."

The smell of acrid smoke hung in the air yesterday as the clean-up got under way.

Through the open doors and windows of the main entrance of the four-star hotel, the aftermath of the fire-bomb claimed by present day IRA was clear.

The reception desk was charred and blackened while the rest of the lobby was covered with ash. The carpets were sodden having being trodden over by firefighters who tackled the blaze in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Miraculously no one was hurt when the device was hurled into the foyer by a masked bomber.

It exploded before the bomb disposal team had time to render it safe.

Many of the residents who were forced to flee returned to the hotel to collect their belongings.

Among these were Julie and Leonard Armstrong from Surrey who had enjoyed a meal together on Thursday evening. They had been travelling since 4am that morning, before going to sleep.

Julie recalled: "We went to bed about 10.30pm and at 11.15pm, the alarms started going off. We were quite heavily asleep and we didn't know where we were quite honestly.

"We grabbed as many clothes as we could to put on us, ran down the corridor to get outside." Julie paid tribute to the hotel staff who she said were "brilliant, very very efficient".

She added: "It was only when we were outside the hotel that a member of staff told us that someone had run into the hotel with a device.

"It was a bit of a shock.

"We have come here many times for a holiday and you think these things are remote, you don't think you will be in the middle of it all.

"It wouldn't put us off, however, in fact we will finish the rest of our stay at the Everglades as planned."

The residents who were evacuated from the Everglades were offered accommodation at the City Hotel before the Everglades re-opens today.

As the bomber ran into the Waterside hotel on Thursday night, an awards ceremony was taking place in Belfast during which the sterling contribution made to the Northern Ireland's tourism sector by Derry was being recognised.

The irony was not lost on the city's mayor Martin Reilly. "On a night when our city was winning awards for the performance in the tourism sector we are reminded that there is a small minority who are intent in putting lives in danger and holding our city back," he said. "This was a very cowardly attack that will not deter us from promoting our city as a tourist destination."

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