Weekend fire is latest incident to blight area

Weekend fire is latest incident to blight area

9 May 2018

VULNERABLE residents at a Downpatrick housing estate have been left terrified by the weekend arson attack which badly damaged a pensioner’s home.

The malicious blaze — which has been widely condemned — was started beside a wooden fence last Friday evening and quickly spread to a shed and the home of an elderly man at Ballymote Park in the Model Farm estate.

Fortunately the man, who requires an oxygen supply to help him breathe, was not at home at the time, with the speedy response of local firemen being credited with preventing the blaze from causing further damage to adjoining homes.

There have been a series of arson attacks at the Model Farm and Flying Horse estates over the past number of years, with a set of traffic lights destroyed and numerous bins set on fire.

Cars driving along the Killough Road, which bisects the two estates, have been pelted with missiles and pensioners’ homes have also been targeted with stones and fireworks.

A series of meetings have been held involving the police and other agencies to discuss the anti-social behaviour problem, but some fear last week’s incident could result in an upsurge in trouble.

Pensioners have been afraid to speak out, with a number feeling frightened after the weekend arson attack.

While there has been relatively little trouble over recent weeks, residents are urging statutory agencies to do all they can to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control and further blighting this part of the town. Parents have also been urged to steer their children away from trouble.

The Fire and Rescue Service’s group commander, Gerry Lennon, described the weekend blaze as “ferocious,” explaining the wind blew the initial fire at the fence and shed onto the roof of the pensioner’s bungalow.

The incident has been strongly condemned by South Down MLAs Colin McGrath and Emma Rogan who have appealed to anyone with information to contact police.

Mr McGrath said the deliberate fire could have resulted in death, praising firemen for their quick response in dealing with the incident. He said the damaged property was the first in a row of homes and that the outcome could have been much worse.

“As a result of the weekend incident, elderly residents at this part of the town have been left particularly vulnerable,” he continued.

Mr McGrath said the Model Farm area had been “besieged” by anti-social behaviour over the past number of years, explaining he has asked for help from Newry, Mourne and Down Council, the PSNI and Housing Executive to have gates fitted at alleyways which connect homes at this part of the estate in a bid to reduce trouble in the area.

He added: “I have been told time and again that there are insufficient funds to deliver this project which has been estimated at £6,000.

“I wonder what the cost was of the members of the emergency services who attended the weekend blaze and the Housing Executive’s out-of-hours contractors who sealed the property, not to mention the price of the required repairs. I can’t help but think that installing gates would be cheaper.”

Ms Rogan described the arson attack as “dangerous, disgraceful and despicable” accusing those responsible of having no regard for life or limb.

Relieved that no one was injured as a result of what she described as a “criminal act,” Ms Rogan said Sinn Fein had been working with statutory bodies in Downpatrick in an effort to tackle the scourge of anti-social behaviour.

“Unfortunately, a small element continue to engage in dangerous anti-social behaviour against the local community,” she continued.

Local residents have had more than enough and this behaviour needs to stop. I would appeal to anyone with information about the arson attack to bring it forward to the police.”

Police investigating the attack are keen to hear from anyone who can assist them with their enquiries. They are particularly keen to hear from people who may have spotted any suspicious activity in the Ballymote Walk area around 7pm last Friday night.

Anyone who can help is asked to contact police using the non-emergency 101 number or use the confidential Crimestoppers number 0800 55111.