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Pupils return to school despite arson attack

By Deborah McAleese and Lisa Smyth

Pupils of a west Belfast school damaged in an arson attack returned to class today after the principal vowed lessons will continue as normal.

The canteen at Corpus Christi College on the Ard Na Va Road was almost completely gutted, while the roof of the building was also damaged in the fire, reported just after 8pm on Sunday.

A PSNI spokesman last night confirmed that detectives are treating the fire, which is thought to have started in the school canteen, as malicious.

A massive clean up operation was launched yesterday as staff worked hard to ensure pupils could return to school today.

Despite the damage, school principal Isabel Russell said temporary measures would be put in place so that pupils at the school are provided with meals.

She explained: “Last week everyone was so positive and looking forward to the new term. To come here and look at your canteen and the state it is in is very demoralising.

“But we have strong staff and I know the community will rally round and help us as they have always done to get something sorted out for the children,” she said.

“The kitchen area of the canteen is more or less completely destroyed. I am disappointed and saddened. I’m thinking what am I going to do? How are we going to provide hot meals for 580 children at the start of the term?

“Our breakfast, break time and lunch time facilities are out of action. We will be asking for help and support from the Belfast Library Board and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools.

“We will cater for the children as best as we possibly can.

“A lot of schools have been targeted during the summer. It is not something usual in this area so I’m very disappointed and frustrated at the start of the new term.

“The most important thing is the children are in school and we are doing what we can to encourage them to be the best they can.”

Lenny Entwistle from the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said: “When fire crews arrived the flames were coming out through the roof. Six firefighters using breathing apparatus entered the building.

“The fire severely damaged the canteen. Fire damage has also been caused to the kitchen area. The roof has been burnt through in some places.”

The PSNI and the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service carried out extensive examinations at the scene yesterday in a bid to determine the cause of the blaze.

Last night, a PSNI spokesman said: “We are treating the fire as malicious.”

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