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Medic tells how he helped stop man from setting himself on fire at Belfast City Hall

A man has told of the dramatic moment he leapt into action to restrain an asylum seeker who tried to turn himself into a human fireball outside Belfast City Hall.

James McMahon, an emergency medical technician from Newtownabbey, was on his way to catch a train when he saw the extraordinary scenes unfold.

Eyewitnesses told how the man walked up to one of the benches outside the City Hall, threw a cloth on the ground and set it ablaze.

He then doused himself in flammable liquid, telling people: "I'm going to set myself on fire, this State hates me."

However, he was stopped by teenager Paul Russell, who bravely stepped in and pushed the man to the ground before he could harm himself.

The incident, on Donegall Square North, took place around 6.15pm on Wednesday.

Mr McMahon said: "I noticed they were starting to get into more of a fight.

"I was about to call the police, I'd dialled 999 and I noticed the foreign gentleman had fallen. I dropped my bags and my iPhone on the floor and ran from the far end of City Hall at the gates.

"I said 'I'm a medic move back', and I put the guy on the floor.

"I took his right arm and put it behind his back and held it there for about a minute until the police arrived."

The man, who is in his 30s, was detained under the Mental Health Act after the horrifying incident.

Mr McMahon said the man was there to "make a statement".

"I don't think he had the intention of hurting those kids at all," he said.

"I was on top of him for a good minute and he was speaking directly to me.

"He kept saying 'friend', I had his arm right round his back and he still said, 'Friend I'm an asylum seeker for the last seven years.'"

And modest teenager Paul –who intervened and pushed the man to the ground as he headed towards the flames – said he only did what anyone else would have done.

An ambulance man who attended the scene said the teenager had saved lives with his actions.

Paul said: "Probably a few more people would have got burned, although he would have got the worst."

Among the eyewitnesses was Tyler McNally (22), from Fermanagh.

"People were asking him what he was doing and his response was, 'F*** the system'," he said.

"He said he was going to set himself on fire because the State hates him.

"A group of young people tried to talk him out of it, then one pinned him down. Whenever the police arrived he said he was an asylum seeker and he told them that they hated him because he wasn't white and because he was a negro."

Other eyewitnesses included commuters and teenagers, some of whom stopped to film the incident on mobile phones. Deanna Montgomery-Shields (19), from Belfast, said she and her friends thought the man was going to do a trick after he told them: "Do you want to see something? Record this."

She said: "I don't think any of us really realised what had happened until we saw him start to douse himself when we all got a bit frantic and panicky. The reality of what actually happened only sunk in when I got home."


Belfast Telegraph