Belfast Telegraph

Wikipedia hoax branded 'callous' as Ballymena company sale prank causes concern at Wrightbus

By Nevin Farrell

Cruel hoaxers who caused pre-Christmas concern amongst factory workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena - which is reeling from recently announced employment blows - have been slammed as "callous".

With Ballymena very sensitive at the moment regarding the future of manufacturing industry in the County Antrim town following the recent news that Michelin is to close, an internet hoax regarding bus builder, Wrightbus, has been criticised.

News spread through workers at Wrightbus - renowned for building the famous London 'Boris' buses - after a message appeared on a wikipedia entry for the firm which read: 'On 26th November the company announced to its employees that they had accepted a bid of £207m from First Group for the sale of the company.'

It is believed that has now been removed but not before the rumours swept through staff and the town.

It even led to the Ballymena Times taking to Twitter to say: "We understand Wrightbus sale rumours are 'untrue'."

North Antrim Ulster Unionists MLA Robin Swann condemned the Wikipedia hoax as a "callous act".

He said: "Too many families in Ballymena at present have the cloud of redundancy hanging over them as we approach Christmas without some smart alec thinking something like this would be funny.

"Certainly isn't funny for the employees of Wrightbus or their families," he added.

One local man with connections to Wrightbus said : "It was a hoax but although whoever did this might have thought it was funny, Ballymena is very jumpy at the moment given the bad news we have been having and this was no way funny.

"For a while there were a lot of concerned people about until nerves were calmed down. Some people were fearing the worst that even though the firm is going well that such a takeover could have meant the business in Ballymena closing down and moving to England.

"Thankfully it is not true. Wrightbus already does manufacture buses for FirstGroup which is one of the leading transport operators in the UK and in America and some people feared it might have meant production would be moved.

"This all came on a day when workers were told to attend a meeting and there was much speculation what was going to be announced but in the end it was just a quarterly meeting to let staff know what is happening and there was nothing untoward. But whoever put this on wikipedia set a few pulses racing for a time."

A Wrightbus firm spokeswoman said: "The company have no comment to make on this matter."

Wrightbus Group, more than tripled its pre-tax profits to £14.5m in 2014, it was recently revealed.

The profit was achieved on a turnover of £297m in 15 months to December 2014.

The directors' report said the figures showed a "substantial improvement" in the Ballymena-based group's performance. It added the outlook was positive with a strong UK order book. The business now employs more than 1,500 people, mainly in Ballymena.

FirstGroup plc say they are the leading transport operator in the UK and North America, with revenues of around £6 billion in 2014/15 and their website says "during the last year around 2.4 billion people relied on us to get to work, to school or college, to visit family and friends and much more".

Earlier this month tyre manufacturer Michelin announced it is pulling out of Ballymena in 2018  with the loss of around 860 jobs and last year tobacco factory JTI Gallaher said they will leave the town in 2017 with the loss of 870 jobs.

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