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Petrol poured through letterbox of pensioner's home

By Donna Deeney

Published 22/04/2015

Scorch damage to Margaret O'Hara's door
Scorch damage to Margaret O'Hara's door
Seventy-year-old Margaret O’Hara, whose Camelia Court home in Londonderry was attacked by arsonists

An elderly woman targeted in a potentially deadly arson attack has vowed not to be intimidated out of the home she has lived in for almost 30 years.

Margaret O'Hara (70) was home alone watching afternoon television in Camelia Court in the Waterside area of Londonderry when someone poured petrol through her letterbox and set it on fire.

When Ms O'Hara began to smell burning, she discovered her hallway was on fire and only her calm and quick thinking prevented the blaze catching hold and endangering her life further.

The pensioner, who lives alone, realises she is lucky to be alive.

She said: "I was in the living room watching the television when this banging started at my front door, but I wouldn't go out to them and just called on them to go away and leave me alone.

"The knocking continued for an hour and then stopped but a while after I smelled what I thought was burning toast, so I went out into the hallway and the place was filling with smoke and it was like a towering inferno.

"I knew I had to get the flames out, so I went into the kitchen and grabbed a basin of water I used to clean my steps and threw it at the door to put out the fire.

"I kept doing that until the flames died and I didn't really think about it at the time.

"It was like I was in a twilight zone, but it was after that I realised I could have been burnt."

After Ms O'Hara extinguished the fire she called the police, who then came under attack from a group of youths throwing stones.

The rear windscreen of a patrol car was smashed in the attack.

A forensic examination of the scene including extensive fingerprinting, was carried out, with police saying a motive is still to be established for what could have been a fatal attack.

Neighbours of Ms O'Hara and community workers came to her assistance following the fire and stayed with her.

She said it was difficult being alone after the attack and she found it hard to sleep.

The pensioner, who is scheduled to have a heart operation soon, said: "My neighbours were very good and they were annoyed that this has happened to me. I never closed my eyes when I went to bed, I thought I might have slept but I couldn't.

"I am angry, angry, angry now and I can't understand what kind of a person would do something like this.

"In my day we helped old people and we were glad to be able to do it, but I don't know what's going on with people nowadays. This has been my home for 29 years and I've lived through a lot. This isn't going to drive me out."

Background

The attack on Margaret O'Hara's home is the latest incident involving arson in Londonderry.

Over the last weekend, residents in the Galliagh area were terrorised by gangs of young people pouring petrol on roads to form barricades.

Others squirted each other with fuel and attempted to set each other alight

Another elderly woman had serious damage caused to her home after her oil tank caught alight when a deliberately-lit fire spread from bushes to her back fence.

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