Police examine racist motive behind Newry fire

April 20, 2010

By Brónagh Murphy

Sixteen Polish nationals narrowly escaped with their lives when fire took hold in their Newry city centre apartment block in the early hours of Tuesday last.

The blaze in the four-storey building in Corn Market was already well-developed when Fire and Rescue Service crews arrived on the scene just after 3.00am.

Ten people, including two children, were rescued from the flats while the six others managed to escape before fire fighters arrived.

Five of those rescued were treated for the effects smoke inhalation.  Smoke alarms were installed in the building but had failed to go off.

It’s believed the blaze was the result of an arson attack on a shop on the ground floor.  Police said that a hate crime is one line of enquiry they are pursuing.

Justyna McCabe, a spokesperson for the Challenge for Change project which helps integrate ethnic minorities into the community, says she would be very surprised if there was found to be a racist motive behind the fire.

“Newry is a very friendly place. We really make sure that it is a welcoming city and we are very happy to say that relationships have been very good,” she said.

“We have the Ethnic Minority Support Centre and also have the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Poland based in Newry, so we are working very hard to make sure that relationships are very good.”

Expressing his relief that no one was injured in the fire, the Mayor of Newry and Newry and Mourne District Council, Councillor John Feehan, congratulated the Fire Service personnel for their immediate response.

“I am very proud of the firemen from Newry and Warrenpoint Fire Stations whose prompt and professional action prevented the loss of life and injury of the residents,” he said.

He also paid tribute to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for its prompt attention in ensuring that all those left homeless were re-housed immediately to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Police investigations are continuing and they have appealed for witnesses to contact them.