Mystery blazes at listed buildings come under scrutiny
A string of fires at listed buildings across Northern Ireland will be the focus of a special heritage crime summit being held today.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said the event in Hillsborough Court House would gather expert advice on protecting special sites.
Following a fire at the historic Herdman's Mill in Sion Mills last month, the minister said the blaze was one of a dozen similar incidents to have hit iconic buildings since April.
The Co Tyrone mill dates back to the famine and is one of the most important industrial buildings in Ireland.
As investigators examined the cause of the blaze, Mr Attwood said it was evidence that more needed to be done to protect important buildings.
“Our built heritage is a vital link to our past history,” he said.
“It is also a rich resource for present and future generations. Once gone, these buildings can never be replaced.
“That's why it is so important that we protect and preserve them. I am deeply concerned by this recent spate of fires. Some, especially like Herdman's Mill, are particular jewels.
“I want to identify what more DoE (Department of the Environment) and others with responsibilities could do, should do, or be made to do to reduce risk and protect the built heritage.
“As with beaches, and other areas of the environment, I want to get the key players under the one roof and find answers to tough questions.
“That is why we have the Fire and Rescue Service, PSNI, key heritage groups within the voluntary sector and owners attending today.
“I also want to get a wider perspective on this to see what English Heritage is doing about similar problems.”
The summit will be attended by around 80 experts, including Chief Inspector Mark Harrison, policing and crime adviser to English Heritage. He has been seconded to English Heritage from Kent Police to design and implement a strategy that will lead to more effective and co-ordinated enforcement of the law protecting England's historic sites and buildings.
Mr Attwood thanked the Fire and Rescue Service for its work in battling blazes at important historic sites.
“I would like to salute the valiant efforts of the Fire and Rescue Service, without whose commendable efforts, we would not still have a chance to preserve buildings.
“I call on anyone with any information to give that to the |PSNI.”