Belfast Telegraph

Family of Wrightbus owners hit by sinister death threat

Lorraine Rock at the family home
Lorraine Rock at the family home
Jeff Wright
TUV’s Timothy Gaston and Jim Allister at Wrightbus
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Death threats have been issued against the family that owned Wrightbus following the collapse of their business, it emerged last night.

Former director Jeff Wright - the son of Wrightbus founder Sir William Wright - called on all elected representatives and those with influence in the community to "help end this intimidation and fear".

Around 1,200 of the company's employees have been made redundant after the Ballymena bus manufacturer was placed into administration earlier this week.

A spokesperson for the family said police are taking the matter very seriously.

A police spokesperson said: "We do not discuss the security of individuals and no inference should be drawn from this.

"However, if we receive information that a person’s life may be at risk we will inform them accordingly. We never ignore anything which may put an individual at risk."

In a statement last night Jeff Wright said the closure of Wrightbus "has been devastating to our loyal and highly-skilled workforce", but revealed family members have now been threatened.

The dramatic development came as Sir William's daughter said she had not "lost all hope" that the company can be saved.

Lorraine Rock said she fully understands the plight of workers who lost their jobs, as her son Kyle is among them.

The Wright family, who established the firm in 1946, have blamed the collapse on global changes from diesel to electric buses, causing a drop in demand.

They said they attempted to secure local jobs by moving work from their Malaysia facility back to the Co Antrim town.

In a statement last night Jeff Wright said the loss of the company that he and his father had grown for over 70 years had been shattering for the family.

"Generations of families have worked alongside our own family over all these years and so this is deeply and personally felt by everyone," he said.

"We are here to provide our administrators, Deloittes, with all information, order books, financial records and whatever is needed to establish a future plan for the bus manufacturing operation. Our commitment to supporting all efforts is unwavering.

"There have been sinister developments involving threats to the life of Wright family members and I am asking all elected representatives and those with influence in the community to help end this intimidation and fear."

Earlier, speaking outside her father's home, Mrs Rock (61), who is listed as one of the company's managing directors, said she was very sorry about the job losses, but expressed optimism on the prospect of a deal.

"The UK market went down and we got into financial difficulties, so it was difficult to turn the business around really," she said.

"We should have cut a lot harder sooner, but we always liked to try and retain our employees. We are people focused and in the last recession, we kept our employees.

"We do care and rather than cut, we were trying to keep as many people as we could."

She added: "I really feel for them (the workforce). My own son has been made redundant and my sister has six in her family made redundant, so we have been personally affected.

"It has been a very tough week, but there is still a glimmer of a hope.

"I haven't lost all hope because it's still a really good business and we have good people and good products. If we can sell it, then my father's whole life's work hasn't gone to ruin."

Another daughter of Sir William, Mandy Knowles, also listed as a company director, declined to be interviewed when approached.

Her brother Jeff Wright has come under fire for his involvement in the Green Pastures Church in Ballymena, which has received charitable donations of around £15m in the last six years through Cornerstone Group, Wrights Group's parent company.

In a statement yesterday Green Pastures, where some staff are planning to picket tomorrow, said it is grateful for the donations from the collapsed company in previous years.

A spokesperson said the church was "devastated" by the job losses and understands the "hurt, anger and confusion".

Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph revealed that Mr Wright asked a Chinese firm for annual rent of around £1m in a potential sale of the troubled firm, however the deal was not completed.

Mr Wright is understood to have sought rent from a bidder, believed to be Weichai, for company property, including the former JTI Gallaher's site in a deal that would have saved 1,200 jobs and the public purse around £13m in redundancy payments.

Michael Magnay and Peter Allen of professional services firm Deloitte have been appointed as joint administrators to Wrightbus and will be retaining 50 employees at this time.

Yesterday TUV leader Jim Allister and a party delegation met with administrators at the plant. He said: "The situation is quite devastating, but the hope of us all is that even yet, something can be salvaged."

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Water has offered a lifeline to Wrightbus workers. Posting on Facebook, the company said: "In light of the recent news regarding Wrightbus, NI Water would like to show our support and welcome all affected Wrightbus employees to send their CV to recruitment@niwater.com."

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