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Call for action after major blaze at historic Herdmanís Mill site

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Call for action after major blaze at historic Herdmanís Mill site thumbnailAn aerial view of the former Herdmanís Mill in Sion Mills showing the damage after the latest fire at the site.

POLICE investigations are continuing this week following the latest attack by arsonists on one of the district's most iconic buildings - Herdman's Mill in Sion Mills.

Firefighters were tasked to the site last Wednesday evening at around 7.45pm as fire ravaged through a block of the historic building and they worked for several hours to quell the ferocious blaze which caused yet more damage to the former mill.

Three appliances and one aerial appliance were despatched to the scene, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) confirmed. Smoke was still visibly emanating from the extinguished fire on Thursday morning.

It is the fifth arson attack on the former linen spinning factory in the last four years. Police have now confirmed the blaze was deliberately ignited.

"Police are investigating after the old Herdsman's Mill in Sion Mills was targeted by arsonists.

"The blaze is believed to have been started deliberately and officers are appealing for witnesses to get in touch," a spokesperson said.

Disgust

Scores of local people watched on in disgust as firefighters fought to bring the fire under control with many lamenting the continuing demise of the village's historic site. Others have also spoken of the need for urgent action to preserve the building from further damage.

The incident occurred less than a week after Sion Mills Cricket Club, which is located near the mill, was also targeted by firebugs.

Local community worker, Andy Patton, has appealed for anyone with information about the "wanton destruction" to bring it to the authorities so that those responsible are held to acocunt and brought before the court.

"When will this burning stop? I nor no one else can answer that question but as a community we have to remain strong and united and not allow whoever lit the fire or fires to destroy our strong community spirit.

"Someone, somewhere, is now sitting back very smugly and thinking this is all good craic ..... wise up!" he added.

The Fire Service said the damage caused to the building - now owned by Euromillions winner Margaret Loughrey - was extensive.

The huge 62-acre site had been owned by the Herdman family for over 170 years. At its height, the mill once employed more than 1,000 staff.

It ceased spinning linen in 2004 and the company that owned the mill went into receivership in 2011. The site was then bought by Ms Loughrey in 2014 following her lottery win. She had ambitious plans to transform the site but it has lain dormant since.

Intervention

Calls for immediate intervention have been echoed this week by local politicians. West Tyrone SDLP MLA., Daniel McCrossan, said the fire was "bitterly disappointing".

"This is a hugely important and historical site in Tyrone which has been subjected to a spate of arson attacks in the last few years," he said.

"The people of Sion Mills and the wider area are fed up with the mill being left in ruins and are upset that a large piece of their history has literally gone up in flames.

"I would advise anyone who spotted any suspicious activity around the time of the fire to get in touch with the PSNI as soon as possible.

"Something has to be done about this. I have engaged with various departments in the past to take ownership of the site and put it in the hands of local people. If action is not taken, I fear there will literally be nothing left of the mill and the history attributed to it."

Castlederg-based Ulster Unionist councillor, Derek Hussey, also raised the mill's plight at a meeting of council's Health and Communities Committee meeting last Thursday afternoon.

He warned that lives are being at risk by the continuing spate of arson attacks and anti-social behaviour.

"Police have said the fire was caused deliberately. Council may not have a direct responsibility for the mill, but we have to take responsibility.

"This anti-social behaviour and criminal damage is causing trauma to the entire village. Lives are being put at risk," Alderman Hussey told the meeting.

Detectives have asked anyone with information or who may have witnessed suspicious activity in the area to contact them at Strabane Police Station on the 101 non-emergency number.

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