Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Arson suspected in fire at offices previously targeted by loyalists

Jarlath Kearney:

Offices belonging to an estate agent previously targeted by the Ulster Volunteer Force were torched yesterday in a suspected arson attack.

Several residential premises had to be evacuated when Apsley Homes on Belfast’s Donegall Road was set alight.

Fire crews were called to the scene of the blaze at around 4.30am.

Just over two months ago, the Office of Fair Trading revoked the customer credit licence of the Apsley Homes owner, William Faulkner.

Between 1985 and 2003, Mr Faulkner was convicted of two counts of assaulting police, counts of possession of controlled drugs with intent to supply and of dishonestly handling stolen goods, and three counts of fraudulently using a road fund licence.

In August, the Office of Fair Trading said in a statement: “An adjudicator determined that Mr Faulkner’s criminal convictions and his failure to declare material information about them in his consumer credit licence application made him unfit to engage in either estate agency work or credit activities.”

Mr Faulkner was entitled to continue trading as an estate agent pending the outcome of an appeal he lodged against the adjudication at that time.

Station officer Harry Dawson of the Fire and Rescue Service told Daily Ireland that, pending an investigation of the fire at Apsley Homes, “all the indications are that there are unusual circumstances in relation to the blaze”.

Mr Dawson said the incident had developed into a “fairly major fire” by the time the tenders arrived and it took about an hour to bring under control.

As a result of the common roof void in the terrace adjoining the scene of the blaze, several residential premises were evacuated.

South Belfast SDLP assembly member Carmel Hanna called for anyone with information about the blaze to contact the PSNI.

“It is clear that the fire brigade believe that this fire was started deliberately,” Mrs Hanna said.

“It is fortunate that the fire did not spread any further as the consequences could have been even more severe.

“It is shocking to think that there are people out there who are so ambivalent to damaging people’s lives and destroying people’s livelihoods.”

In a statement, a PSNI spokesperson confirmed that the blaze at Apsley Homes was being treated as suspicious.

“Police are treating as suspected arson a fire at commercial premises on the Donegall Road.

“The fire was reported at around 4.30am and the road was sealed off for a while as the fire brigade tended the blaze. Extensive damage was caused.”

PSNI detectives were reported to be “keeping an open mind” about the motive behind the attack.

They have appealed for information about any suspicious activity in the Donegall Road area.

In January 2004, William Faulkner claimed the UVF had warned him not to let properties to ethnic minorities.

Daily Ireland understands that the loyalist organisation was upset after a number of UVF members faced charges relating to the extortion of cash from a Chinese businessperson in south Belfast.

The UVF subsequently attacked the offices of Apsley Homes on a number of occasions.

Daily Ireland was unable to contact anyone representing Apsley Homes yesterday.

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