Page last updated at 20:40 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Court fire 'started deliberately'

The fire scene

A fire at the disused Crumlin Road courthouse in north Belfast was started deliberately, its owner has said.

Ten fire appliances were used to put out the blaze, which was reported shortly after 1500 GMT on Thursday.

In 2006 the building's owner Barry Gilligan announced plans to transform the courthouse into a luxury hotel.

He said: "There's no power in the building, so accidental fire is not an option. It seems to me the only option is the fire has been deliberately set."

Mr Gilligan, who bought the landmark building for 1, said he was very disappointed.

"There have been some incidences in the past of vandalism and criminal damage, but this is way beyond what has happened before," he said.

Crumlin Road will remain closed overnight between Agnes Street and Carlisle Circus, and police have advised motorists to avoid the area.

A police spokeswoman said they were expecting some traffic delays during rush hour on Friday morning.

The courthouse, which was the venue for hundreds of paramilitary trials, closed in June 1998.

An underground tunnel links one of the docks to a former jail on the opposite side of the road.

The original architect of the Grade B listed building was Sir Charles Lanyon, who was also involved in the construction of some of Belfast's landmark buildings including City Hall, Custom House, Belfast Castle and Queen's University.

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These pictures were taken by a BBC rooftop camera as firefighters tackle the blaze.



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