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Ballymena businessman denies throwing illegal super-spreader parties


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Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

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Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

A businessman who admits breaking coronavirus rules has denied throwing super-spreader parties at the rear of his shop.

Marko Kolev says he is the victim of untrue rumours and there have been no illegal gatherings at his food store on Ballymena's Linenhall Street.

"That's not true, there have been no parties here, look for yourself," said the 30-year-old pointing to a large room with a pool table.

"I don't know why people say there have been parties because there have not been parties."

However, he did admit attending a 50-strong New Year's Eve celebration on Kinhilt Street that flaunted Covid-19 regulations and which was held just yards away from Ballymena PSNI station. The scenes were criticised by politicians as was the poor police response time, with DUP MLA Mervyn Storey branding it "reckless".

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Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

In a video circulated on social media Kolev - who owns the Stara Planina food shop - is seen standing among a large group of Bulgarian Roma welcoming in the new year.

The event breached strict pandemic protocol which, between December 26 and January 2, banned all indoor and outdoor gatherings between 8pm and 6am.

Asked if he accepted that the rules were broken, Kolev shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yeah".

Sitting behind the counter of his busy store, he added: "The party was on 'Gypsy Street' (Kinhilt Street). It was for new year. It's okay now."

Kolev also confessed to being arrested by the PSNI last week after a self-recorded video emerged of him driving his Audi at speeds of 100mph while undertaking other vehicles.

But he was freed without charge having claimed the incident occurred on a Bulgarian road. He insisted: "That wasn't here, that was in Bulgaria. They (PSNI) let me go."

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Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

Martin Kolev denies hosting illegal party in Kinhilt Street

After Kolev was arrested, a PSNI spokesman said: "Following a report to police regarding an online video depicting dangerous driving, a suspect has been identified and arrested. The 30-year-old male was detained in the Ballymena area on suspicion of a number of driving offences this afternoon."

Police also confirmed an investigation into the Kinhilt Street New Year's Eve party which Kolev attended remains active. Two fixed penalty fines of £200 have been issued to revellers who were identified from a recording posted online.

Officers' response time was criticised as the celebrations had broken up by the time they arrived on the street which is just 50 yards away from Ballymena PSNI station.

Chief Inspector William Calderwood said: "We received a number of calls in relation to this gathering but upon arrival of officers, there were no reports of anyone in the area.

"However, since viewing video footage we have issued two COV4 fines in relation to the gathering and our inquiries are ongoing in relation to the matter."

Marko Kolev refused to reveal if he was one of the party-goers fined. The businessman has emerged as one of the most prominent members of the Bulgarian Roma community who live near Ballymena town centre, with many working in local food factories.

He told Sunday Life that the area is known as 'Gypsy Street' because of the concentration of immigrants. Asked did he not regard this as an offensive or racist term, Kolev replied: "I don't care."

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk

Sunday Life


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