Wrightbus 'sell-off' hoax sparks fear in jobs-hit Ballymena
Hoaxers who sparked panic in Ballymena by claiming a successful factory had been sold have been slammed as "callous".
There has been condemnation of the internet hoax about bus builder Wrightbus, which occurred weeks after Michelin announced its factory in the town is to close.
News spread among workers at the firm - which builds London's famous 'Boris' buses - after a message appeared on a Wikipedia entry for the company reading: "On 26th November the company announced to its employees that they had accepted a bid of £207m from FirstGroup for the sale of the company."
The entry has now been removed, but not before the rumour had swept through the business and the town.
The Ballymena Times newspaper took to Twitter to say: "We understand Wrightbus sale rumours are 'untrue'."
North Antrim UUP MLA Robin Swann condemned the hoax as a "callous act".
He said: "Too many families in Ballymena at present have the cloud of redundancy hanging over them as we approach Christmas without some smart Alec thinking something like this would be funny.
"It certainly isn't funny for the employees of Wrightbus or their families."
One local man with connections to Wrightbus said: "It was a hoax, but although whoever did this might have thought it was funny, Ballymena is very jumpy at the moment given the bad news we have been having, and this was no way funny.
"There were a lot of concerned people about until nerves were calmed down. Some people were fearing the worst that even though the firm is going well, that such a takeover could have meant the business in Ballymena closing down and moving to England.
"Wrightbus already does manufacture buses for FirstGroup, which is one of the leading transport operators in the UK and in America, and some people feared it might have meant production would be moved. This all came on a day when workers were told to attend a meeting and there was much speculation, but in the end it was just a quarterly meeting to let staff know what is happening. But whoever put this on Wikipedia set a few pulses racing for a time."
A Wrightbus spokeswoman said: "The company has no comment to make on this matter."
Wrightbus Group more than tripled pre-tax profits to £14.5m in 2014 on a turnover of £297m.
A directors' report said the figures showed a "substantial improvement" in the Ballymena-based firm's performance.
The business now employs more than 1,500 people, mainly in the Co Antrim town.
Earlier this month tyre manufacturer Michelin announced it was pulling out of Ballymena in 2018 with the loss of around 860 jobs.
Last year tobacco factory JTI Gallaher said it will leave in 2017 with the loss of 870 jobs.