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BBC NI's Rosie Billingham reports:
"Petrol was poured into letterboxes and set alight"
 real 56k

Monday, 14 August, 2000, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
'Sectarian' attacks on homes

William and Una Martin: Lucky escape
The police believe three arson attacks on Catholic houses in the County Antrim town of Ballymena were sectarian.

In all three incidents, early on Monday morning, paper and flammable liquid were put through the letterboxes and set alight.

No-one was injured in the attacks, but extensive smoke damage was caused. One man living on the Heatherfields estate had to jump from an upstairs window.

Burnt furniture: The houses were badly damaged in the attacks
Burnt furniture: Houses were badly damaged
After another incident, the Catholic resident of a house in Greencastle, outside Belfast, said she believed an arson attack on her home was sectarian.

The first attack in Ballymena took place on a house on Knockeen Road at 0030 BST, and was followed minutes later by a similar attack on a house in Knockeen Crescent.

Shortly after 0130 BST a man and woman in a house at a new Ballymena development, The Rosses, managed to escape through a side window when flammable liquid was set alight after being poured through their front door letterbox.

The attacks follow similar incidents in which a church and a Gaelic sports hall in the town were damaged.

'Risk to life'

Local nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party councillor Declan O'Loan said the attacks had caused "a very serious risk to life".

He called for a "substantial police response" to the incidents.

"These are the first sectarian attacks directly on homes and of course that creates a feeling of great vulnerability in the community.

"It's extremely easy to attack innocent people in their own homes and it shows just how diabolical these acts are."

Man jumped from first floor

In the attack on their Heatherfields home, William and Una Martin were woken by the sound of their smoke alarm.

The Martins, who have lived on the estate for 16 years, said they were targeted because of their mixed religion marriage.

William Martin was forced to jump from upstairs window
William Martin was forced to jump from upstairs window
Mrs Martin managed to escape down the stairs, but the smoke had already spread throughout the house. Her husband had to break an upstairs window and jump.

Mr Martin told the BBC: "I started looking about for her and the smoke was getting blacker and blacker and I got a few gasps of air out the window and kept looking for her.

"But then I heard her voice saying: I'm down here, so I bailed out the upstairs window."

Kathleen McTasney, whose brother was shot dead by the UVF in 1991, was asleep when the attack on her home in Greencastle happened was carried out.

She said: "Somebody poured petrol through the letterbox and lit it. It set off the smoke alarm and woke me up.

"I think it was just because it was a Catholic area and I think Protestants were responsible. I don't think it was me. I think it was just because it was a Catholic area."

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See also:

08 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Gaelic sports hall attacked
19 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Mayor condemns arson attacks
18 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Arson attack on protest church
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