Condemnation over suspected arson attack which destroyed Turkish barber shop in Antrim
An Antrim barber shop which was gutted in a suspected arson attack had opened only a week ago after thousands of pounds were invested in kitting out the premises, a neighbouring business owner has said.
The PSNI is not currently treating the incident, which caused “substantial damage” to the interior of Antrim Turkish Barbers on High Street, as a hate crime.
The incident occurred between 7.30pm and 8pm on Monday. Police have said it is being treated as deliberate.
Michael Johnston, who has owned neighbouring business Pizza Time for almost 30 years, said that his premises had sustained smoke and water damage, but he hoped to reopen last night.
He told the Belfast Telegraph that the owner of the barber shop had spent about a month fitting out the unit at a cost of several thousand pounds.
“All that effort has gone up in smoke,” he said.
“The business opened last Monday and it had its first full week of trading.
“It seemed to have a good few customers.
“I’m here 30 years this year and it’s the first time anything like this has happened in the area.
“There were three tyres set alight to the front of the building and they put a tyre underneath a pool table in the customer area which didn’t light.
“They also ripped the pool table in two places.
“The owner has said that he will reopen.
“I think the people who did this had no regard for other businesses in the area. It has affected so many people.
“Thirty years ago we heard of businesses being attacked — it didn’t work then and it’s not going to work now.”
Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Paul Michael said he had encountered a scene of “devastation” when he visited the shop yesterday.
“I have spoken with the owner and he’s clearly distraught,” he said.
“The owner took me through and showed me the devastation of it.
“It’s completely gutted. I saw pictures of it before and it was a barber shop like no other, finished to a very high standard with a games room and a family room.
“It was really upmarket. It’s so sad. I could imagine it’s several thousand pounds worth of investment into that property.”
The UUP councillor said he believed the owner’s intentions are to rebuild and go back into trade.
“He felt that business was good and he was being welcomed by the local community, and he is shocked that this could have happened. This attack took place on a busy main street. Staff were sent home and the town centre was closed — a number of businesses were affected.”
Mr Michael said that when he was in the building, he had “noticed a car tyre lying underneath the pool table”.
“It’s his (the owner’s) understanding that a number of tyres were taken into the shop and used to ignite the fire,” he added.
“It’s so sad that someone entered those premises and set out to destroy a business.
“We don’t want to see this happening in the town.”
UUP councillor Jim Montgomery, who visited the scene on Monday night, condemned the attack as “reckless”.
“Fortunately nobody was hurt, but damage has been caused to both the barbers and neighbouring businesses,” he said.
“It goes without saying that this sort of attack is not welcome. The last thing we need is reckless arson attacks on any business premises, which could have serious consequences for passers-by or the emergency services.”
Alliance’s Neil Kelly said it was “extremely distressing that a local business has been targeted in such a way”.
He said: “Antrim is a welcoming place for all and we must stand together to ensure it stays that way.”
DUP MP Paul Girvan also slammed the “heinous act”.
“Arson is not a controllable action, those who committed this crime had no way to preventing the fire spreading to other properties,” he said.
“They not only showed contempt to Antrim Turkish Barbers, but also utter contempt for all the businesses on High Street.
“At a time when Antrim is losing a bank and a major retailer, it is incredibly frustrating that a coward has decided to put this barber out of business.”
DUP MLA Trevor Clarke called the attack “devastating” and appealed for anyone with information to contact police.
The PSNI can be contacted on 101 quoting 1282 04/02/19. Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111.