Man (18) arrested following Belfast city centre blaze which forced businesses to close

Man (18) arrested following Belfast city centre blaze which forced businesses to close
An 18-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of arson following a large fire in Belfast city centre on Monday morning.

The arrest comes as over 50 firefighters and 8 fire appliances battled to tackle the blaze at the Old Cathedral Building on Donegal Street.

A number of premises in the building are believed to have been destroyed and commercial properties in the building have had to close.

The PSNI have said they were made aware of the blaze at the city centre’s Cathedral Buildings at 5.40am and later confirmed they believe the cause of the fire is arson.

A police spokesperson said: “The fire is currently being treated as suspected arson at this time and we have arrested an 18-year-old man on suspicion of arson endangering life with intent. He remains in police custody at this time.”

The owner of Cathedral Quarter’s Centra, David Griffiths (34), said his shop was evacuated shortly after 6am.

“We had two transactions through the till before we had to evacuate,” he said.

Mr Griffiths was grateful his shop remained relatively safe from the blaze, saying: “I can see some smoke damage at the top and I’d say there will be water damage but I think we will be ok. We should be trading soon enough.”

He expressed his sympathy for business owners in the building who have been more harshly affected by the fire.

“We are ok, but I feel for other people,” he added. “Some people here have lost years of work.”

SDLP Councillor Carl Whyte, who was on the scene, said his “thoughts are with the many businesses and organisations who use office space in the building and those in the surrounding area.

“The fire at the Old Cathedral Building has caused significant disruption in Belfast on Monday morning as firefighters tackle the blaze,” he said.

“I visited the site of the fire on Monday morning to offer my support to those affected and to establish if any help was needed in the interim.”

Mr Whyte said temporary accommodation is available for businesses at the Cathedral Quarter Business Improvement District.

“This is one of the most historic parts of our city centre and it’s devastating to see this building damaged as a result of this blaze. There has been much discussion about the need to revive this part of our city in recent months and this is the last thing the area needs.”

Meanwhile Sinn Fein MP John Finucane said the blaze will be a blow for the many local, independent businesses as well as the creatives and artists in the area.

“The fire has caused disruption to the area and businesses, while firefighters assess the safety of the building,” he added.

The fire caused widespread disruption this morning throughout the city centre, with Translink suspending all routes through Royal Avenue and a number of junctions in the surrounding area closed.

The Cathedral Buildings house multiple workspaces including Digital Arts Studios who said “no one was in the building at the time” of the fire.

“We are now homeless as are all our colleagues in the building. Lots of work lost and all equipment.”

Form Native, a branding and digital studio who also had premises in the building tweeted, saying “Glad we were all out, but so sorry to lose our studios, buildings and community.”

The building also houses a number of commercial properties, including hair salon, ‘Hair Friendly’, whose staff issued a statement on social media saying they were “devastated” at the news.

“(We’re) on the ground floor so I think we won’t be allowed in for a few days at least…Very tearful about it all.”

“An iconic building full of great businesses on a neglected street is not what the area needs or deserves. Hope everyone is ok.”

Adjoining premises clothing shop ‘Never Never’, tailor ‘Perfect Fit’ and cafe ‘Neighbourhood’ also confirmed they would be closed for the remainder of the day as firefighters continued to work on the blaze.

Cathedral Quarter pub The Deer’s Head tweeted saying they are “devastated for our neighbours in the Cathedral Building on Donegal Street this morning”.

Green Party councillor Brian Smyth said: “A historic building on fire in a part of the City Centre that badly needs a bit of love. Heartbreaking to see, businesses and people’s hard work impacted by this.

“We have so much work to do to turnaround the fortunes of our city centre.”