Part of the historic Crumlin Road Courthouse may have to be demolished after it was ravaged by fire yesterday. The property developer who owns the listed building has said he believes the blaze was started deliberatelty.
A section of the building, which housed courtrooms one and four, was destroyed in the fire. Locals raised the alarm just before 3pm after they spotted flames and acrid roaring from the building, fanned by a stiff wind.
Although fire units were on the scene within minutes, the flames had taken hold on the building.
Group Commander Brian McClintock told conservation officials at the scene that the rear of the building was badly damaged — that the roof had collapsed, the walls were badly damaged and that a section of the famous building may have to come down.
Meanwhile, the owner Barry Gilligan said last night he thought the fire was started deliberately.
“There is no power in the building, so accidental fire is not an option. It seems to me the only option is that the fire has been deliberately set. Certainly I have had some instances in the past where there has been vandalism and criminal damage, but this is way beyond what has happened before.
“It’s very disappointing. The hopes of an entire community are there, I have worked with the community in trying to bring this very important building back to life, and in doing so could create jobs. I am still determined to do that, but I would appeal to the community that if they have any knowledge as to how this fire was started they should pass that on to the PSNI.”
Mr Gilligan bought the courthouse in September 2003 for £1m and released plans to turn it into a hotel and tourist attraction.
A total of 11 appliances from the city and surrounding district — including two aerial units — were at the scene at the height of the blaze, plus a command support unit, which meant that 55 fire fighters were involved.
Hoses were trained on the fire from all angles, as firefighters strained to save the main building.
The fire caused traffic chaos as the Crumlin Road was blocked off at Carlisle Circus as the fire fighters laboured through the afternoon rush hour.
A number of shocked local residents watched.
Sadie Drake said: “Children are never out of it. This is the fourth fire and by far the worst fire and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was started deliberately.”
Police said last night that investigations into the fire would begin as soon as possible.