A landlord and his barman were left terrified they would be burnt alive after a masked gang torched their pub and left them on the premises.
The men were rescued when firefighters arrived to tackle the blaze at McCoy’s bar in Newry and heard their screams for help early Monday morning.
It is understood that the horrifying attack occurred a short time after a group of four men were ordered by staff to leave the Kilmorey Street pub on Sunday night when they became violent.
The men had been drinking in the bar for most of the day when they began to row. They smashed up a television with a pool cue and when staff ordered them from the premises they smashed windows with a fire extinguisher.
Staff at the bar were forced to pull the shutters down and close up for the night. One of the pub’s owners and a barman stayed behind to try and repair some of the damage when a gang of four masked men forced their way in and attacked the pair at around 12.30am yesterday.
It is understood that the gang then placed bags over the heads of the two men and put them under stairs in the back yard of the pub. They then sprinkled petrol in the premises and set it alight, leaving the men trapped.
The PSNI confirmed that a link to the earlier incident was a primary line of inquiry in its investigation.
Twelve fire crews and 60 firefighters were needed to tackle the blaze.
When firefighters entered the pub they could hear screams coming from the back. They used a ladder to rescue the two men who were trapped in the yard. Both were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and shock before being taken to hospital.
Fire and Rescue Service group commander for the area Randy McComb said it was one of the largest fires he had attended in a long time.
“When the crews arrived on the scene they attempted to gain access to the front of the building. Then they heard shouts coming from the rear of the premises. A crew went round the back and, using a ladder, they rescued two casualties from the rear of the premises, which was heavily smoke-logged,” said Mr McComb.
He added that the fire was so intense and it spread so rapidly that it was hard to save the building.
Newry councillor Jackie Patterson said the two men were lucky to have escaped with their lives.
“If the fire crews had not arrived when they had the consequences are just unthinkable. Those men could have been killed,” said Mr Patterson.
The police have said they are treating the incident as arson with intent to endanger life and have appealed for anyone with information to contact detectives in Newry on 0845 600 8000.
In a separate incident in Comber, Co Down, two women were assaulted by three robbers in licensed premises.
Sometime between 8pm and midnight on Sunday three men entered the premises, attacked the two female members of staff and tied them up before fleeing with the contents of a safe, three gaming machines and tills.
The two women, aged 39 and 40, were taken to hospital for treatment to facial injuries.