Hotel bomb staff 'saved lives'
The courageous efforts of staff to evacuate a Londonderry hotel before a dissident republican fire bomb burst into flames saved the lives of many guests, police have said.
A masked man abandoned a holdall containing the incendiary device at the Everglades Hotel late last night.
A short time later it ignited into a fireball as an Army bomb disposal officer was trying to make it safe. No one was injured in the attack but the reception area of the hotel, which is in the Prehen area of Derry, was extensively damaged.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Superintendent Stephen Cargin said if the hotel had not been properly evacuated by the time the blaze took hold lives would have been lost.
"The hotel did a fabulous job evacuating people," he said.
"I have no doubt they saved the lives of many of their residents."
One potential reason the hotel was targeted by republican extremists opposed to the peace process was because it has previously hosted PSNI recruitment events.
Hotel owner Sir William Hastings said: "It is extremely sad that the professional staff and management of the Everglades Hotel have had to deal with such a traumatic experience."
He praised them for "acting so quickly and professionally to avert a major atrocity".
"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.
"This despicable action has the potential to damage the tourism industry in Derry/Londonderry but with my experience of the people in the city and their resolve I am confident this will not deflect them from their efforts to help continue to take the city forward."
He said staff were working hard to ensure the hotel would be back to business tomorrow morning. In another show of defiance against the extremists, Sunday's Walled City Marathon, which is due to start from the hotel, is set to go ahead as planned.
City native and Stormont's Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness tweeted his condemnation.
"Derry is a place looking to the future & will not be held back by those living in the past," he wrote.
"Their attack on the Everglades must be condemned."
Derry's mayor councillor Martin Reilly said the attack was against the whole city.
"This was a very cowardly attack that will not deter us from promoting our city as a tourist destination," he said.
Northern Ireland's new chief constable in-waiting has vowed to bring to justice those behind the fire bomb.
George Hamilton, who was yesterday appointed to succeed Matt Baggott in the high profile role, said the perpetrators had no regard for Northern Ireland or its citizens.
"I think the fact it has happened indicates some of the challenges that face us," he said.
"These are people who are opposed to peace, they are people who are trying to use violence, who are damaging the economic well-being of the country, who are taking jobs off people and they don't actually care about this place or about the citizens of it - I do, deeply.
"We will be doing everything in our power possible to prevent occurrences like that and when they do occur we will be doing everything possible to bring those responsible to justice."
The holdall was left by A man claiming to be from the IRA - the name a number of dissident factions claim as their own. He told staff they had 40 minutes to evacuate the building.
Around 45 firefighters worked to bring the fire under control and contain damage to the reception.
A Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) spokeswoman said: "NIFRS would like to commend the action of the hotel staff in the text book evacuation of the hotel. Their actions of closing fire doors behind them greatly assisted NIFRS in the prevention of fire spread to other parts of the hotel."
Stormont's Justice Minister David Ford said those responsible were reckless and had shown a total disregard for life.
"Thankfully, primarily because of the swift action of the hotel staff, there have been no injuries," he said.
"I know that the overwhelming majority of Derry people will be appalled by this attack, and we stand with them against those who want to stop their city moving forward."
Democratic Unionist MP for East Londonderry Gregory Campbell said: "This was an attack whereby someone entered the hotel and threw the device at the reception desk. It demonstrates starkly the threat posed by those who are determined to drag Northern Ireland back.
"Thankfully no-one was hurt in this attack and the swift actions of hotel staff undoubtedly helped protect the safety of guests. Given the very public nature of this attack I would hope the police will be able to gather information which can lead to the arrest of those behind the incident. It is vital that the focus from politicians and the entire community is placed on those determined to use violence to advance their political aims and that a strong and united stance is taken against them.
"The perpetrators need to understand that this type of activity didn't work in the past, won't work now, nor in the future.
"The Walled City Marathon, which starts from this venue at the weekend will continue as normal, life will go on as usual, these individuals are doomed to fail."
Stormont Environment minister and Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan is taking part in the race.
"After the bomb attack at the Everglades Hotel, there is no better way for the people of this fantastic city to send a strong message to the cowards behind the bomb attack that this is the real Derry," he said.