Fresh alert hits Belfast city centre on one of busiest days of the year
Christmas revellers were evacuated from a Belfast city centre bar last night after a security alert sparked by a suspicious object.
Scores of diners booked into the Northern Whig found themselves out in the cold after police received a report of a suspect device in the nearby Post Office at the corner of Bridge Street and High Street at around 6pm.
The alert also caused disruption for shoppers and businesses as a large section of the area was cordoned off.
Army ammunition technical officers were tasked to the scene on what is known as Black Friday, one of the busiest days of the year for retail and hospitality businesses in Belfast.
The object was examined before the PSNI said nothing untoward was found, and the area was re-opened.
Bridge Street is just metres from the site of where an incendiary device was ignited at the Golf Madness store in Cornmarket. That attack, during which the bomber set himself on fire as he fled the store, came just days after an explosion at St Anne's Square in the Cathedral Quarter. Hundreds of party-goers were evacuated from the busy nightspot after the device went off.
Tensions were already high in the city centre after an incident last month, when masked men forced a terrified driver to bring a 130lb proxy bomb to a car park at Victoria Square.
Last night the manager of the Iceland store in Bridge Street, Trevor Roberts, told the Belfast Telegraph he had to wait by the police cordon with his staff as they had to prepare the store for a busy day of trading today.
Mr Roberts said: "Today is one of our top four trading days of the year. People were in buying their Christmas food; £300 shops were going through the tills, but people had to abandon trolleys."
Another shop worker said: "We were bunged. We had to leave at 6.20pm."
Traffic on Donegall Street was diverted away from the alert as it approached St Anne's Cathedral, but pubs like the John Hewitt, Duke of York, Muriel's and other businesses in the Cathedral Quarter continued to trade unaffected.
The police cordon extended from the former In Shops building in High Street to Dunnes Stores and then along Bridge Street to the Northern Whig.
The Northern Whig was evacuated, leaving scores of people booked in for Christmas functions disappointed.
And shoppers laden with bags of presents and food were frustrated they could not get back to their cars parked on High Street.
One man said: "What are they hoping to achieve? All this nonsense has to stop."
A small business owner, trading in the city centre for more than 40 years, told this newspaper he was disappointed that business had been impacted again.
"Business was good until last Friday when the other bomb went off. It's killed it," he said.
"It's mostly country people won't come into town now.
"Also, parents aren't happy with kids coming into town.
"Today, in the last couple of hours, I would say conservatively, we have lost about £1,500 so far," he added.
Thousands of party-goers refused to let the security alert ruin their Friday night out, with bars and pubs outside the cordon area largely reporting being busy.