Belfast Telegraph

Gang of masked youths wanted over sectarian arson attack on special needs school

Police are treating an arson attack at an east Belfast school for children with special needs as a "sectarian hate crime".

Firefighters were called to St Vincent's Centre in the Willowfield Drive area of Belfast on Friday night, with a report made to police at around 9pm.

Police were joined at the scene by members of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service.

On arrival, officers found a downstairs classroom window had been smashed, and a flammable liquid poured through and set alight.

The attack saw extensive smoke and scorch damage to the walls and ceiling of the classroom, with pupils' coursework destroyed as a result.

Inspector Thomas Fairfield said: "No-one was injured  in the incident, but there was extensive smoke and scorch damage to the walls and ceiling of the classroom and a lot of the pupils’ coursework was destroyed as a result.

“Thanks to the efforts of the Fire Service, the fire was extinguished and contained to the ground floor.  We are currently treating the fire as arson and a sectarian hate crime.

“Hate crime, in all its forms, is totally unacceptable. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that we live in a society where diversity is respected. If you or someone you know is the victim of a hate crime please contact police or your local support agency."

The attack has been condemned by Sinn Fein councillor Mairead O'Donnell as a "despicable hate crime".

“It is hard to fathom that anyone would target a school  in an arson attack, which provides for the special needs of children," she said.

“I call on anyone who has any information on those who carried out this attack to bring it forward immediately to the police."

Police wish to speak to members of a group of around 15 masked youths who they believe were involved in a number of incidents of anti-social behaviour in the east of the city.

Between 8.30pm and 9.30pm it was reported a group was seen setting bins on fire and throwing stones and other items at passing motorists in the Woodstock Road/Link area and setting off fireworks in the Willowfield Walk area.

Inspector Thomas Fairfield added: "Anyone with information about this group, the arson in Willowfield  Drive or any of the other incidents should ring us on the non-emergency number 101, quoting reference 1512 of 13/7/18. 

“Alternatively information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestopppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100% anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.”

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