Belfast Telegraph

Ex-Church of Ireland head Robin Eames owns Belfast gas blast building

By Christopher Woodhouse

The building badly damaged in a gas explosion in east Belfast earlier this month is owned by the former head of the Church of Ireland, Robin Eames.

The Clay Oven in Ballyhackamore was only open for two days when it was rocked by the blast, leaving chef Arafat Khan with severe burns to his right arm.

It's believed the source of the explosion was a tandoor oven, but Belfast City Council has yet to conclude its investigation.

On the House of Lords register of members' interests, Lord Eames, one-time Primate of All-Ireland, states he is part-owner of the row of shops on the Upper Newtownards Road. Lord Eames lodged a change of use application with the city council in May to allow it to be converted from a newsagents to a hot food bar.

Residents on the nearby Earlswood Road objected to the change, citing concerns about noise, worsening odour from drains and the flue from the restaurant being close to homes.

But the application was approved subject to measures being put in place to address the residents' worries.

When contacted, the 82-year-old former Archbishop of Armagh told Sunday Life he could not comment as the matter was in the hands of his estate agent.

The explosion lifted part of the roof of the building and blew out the glass from windows onto the busy shopping street.

Mr Khan (31) spoke following treatment at hospital, telling how he didn't think he could go near a fire again. He was treated by staff at a nearby shop while waiting for the emergency services to arrive.

"I lit the fire, turned my back and there was a flash," he said. "I fell and tried to get up. There was gas in my face and eyes and my throat was burning. I thought 'I need to save myself'.

"I got out of the kitchen and was just running, terrified, because I never faced anything like this before. I was fortunate that the exit was clear. I was just running for my life. It was really scary. I can't explain it.

"I never had this kind of terrifying experience. I have not looked at any of the pictures of the building. It's too much - I can't think about it."

Mr Khan said he followed normal procedure when lighting the oven, first turning on the fan then the oven itself, as he has done in the 10 years he has been a chef.

Belfast Telegraph

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