Belfast Telegraph

Finaghy residents angered by terror hoax that lasted 24 hours

By ADRIAN RUTHERFORD AND MICHELLE SMYTH

Furious residents have expressed their anger after being forced out of their homes for over 24 hours by a security alert that turned out to be an elaborate hoax.

Dozens of families spent Thursday night in temporary accommodation after several suspicious objects were found at Finaghy Halt railway station.

Hundreds of commuters and school children were also affected yesterday morning, as part of the railway line was closed, causing major disruption to services between Belfast, Lisburn, Portadown and Dublin.

A stretched Translink was forced to hire private coaches to shuttle rail passengers to their stops.

After Army bomb disposal experts carried out controlled explosions on the suspect devices on Thursday night, the alert finally ended yesterday afternoon – a full day after it began.

At around 5pm, it was declared an elaborate hoax, the railway line was re-opened and residents were allowed back in their homes.

Many residents in the Finaghy area had been forced to seek refuge overnight in nearby churches and a leisure centre was opened. And yesterday, it was the turn of pupils and commuters to face the disruption and delays.

The alert was like a throwback to the bad old days of the Troubles, when republicans regularly disrupted rail travel.

But for a younger generation, it was an unwelcome new experience.

Maire Thompson, principal of Malone Integrated College, said some parents refused to send their children to school because of the alert. "A lot of the children were scared.

"They aren't familiar with the concept of a bomb alert. I received calls from parents saying they weren't sending their children to school yesterday. Many of those who did attend had to be re-routed."

Cross-border rail passengers were bussed by Translink to catch the Enterprise train at alternative stations, although the alert added traffic congestion on the roads.

David Graham, central area manager for Northern Ireland Railways, said around 20 buses were put on to accommodate passengers whose trains had been cancelled.

"Once we had exhausted our own resources we had to actually bring in private coaches and drivers. It has proven quite expensive but worth it because we have managed to provide a seamless service with the least amount of disruption and delays as possible," he said.

Ellen Dick, who had just boarded one of the buses from the Europa bus station home to Lisburn, said she got to work a "wee bit later" yesterday morning but praised Translink for its efficient service.

"I am sure it was inconvenient for some people but you can't really fault Translink considering what they were up against, they laid on buses and that is good enough for me," she said.

PSNI chief Inspector Ken Pennington thanked the community for its patience during the lengthy operation and placed the blame for the disruption firmly on those behind the hoax.

Nevertheless, there was still annoyance at the length of time taken to deal with the alert.

BACKGROUND

"Those responsible for placing these items have shown a total disregard for the local community and also for the wider community. A number of homes were evacuated during the course of this security alert.

"Throughout this incident the safety of the public and police officers had been at the forefront of our planning and actions."

Chief Inspector Ken Pennington

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