News delivery firm to quit Co Armagh republican area after hijacking

A council van assists in the clear-up operation after a vehicle had been set alight in Lurgan
A council van assists in the clear-up operation after a vehicle had been set alight in Lurgan

A delivery firm has said it will no longer travel to a republican neighbourhood in Co Armagh after a masked gang hijacked a truck carrying a consignment of newspapers.

The 3.5-tonne vehicle was later set alight on the train tracks in Lurgan, and its cargo of newspapers destroyed.

The van was reported on fire at roughly 4.30am, having been hijacked a short time earlier in the Kilwilkie area.

In addition to the arson attack on the van, three petrol bombs were thrown at police at the scene on the Lake Street railway junction.

Unionist councillor for the area Colin McCusker said it was just the latest example of the town’s name being “dragged through the mud by republican thugs”.

Around 1,500 newspapers – about 60 per cent of which were copies of the nationalist Irish News – were ruined.

An estimated 140 or so copies of the News Letter were destroyed, as well as copies of the Irish Times, Irish Independent, and Belfast Telegraph.

The papers had been destined for 20 different news agents.

Conor King, 36-year-old Londonderry-based operations manager for the firm Newspread, said two male subcontractors were inside the van.

The driver was a married father in his 30s, and the other man was learning the route.

They were making deliveries to a newsagent in Kilwilkie when four masked men approached, and told them to “get out of the van, to f**k”.

Mr King received a phone call about the incident at around 5am, and said that both men – thought to be from Belfast – were unhurt, but shaken.

“They weren’t to know whether or not someone was armed,” he said, adding that there have been problems in the area before.

He was aware that another firm had seen one of its drivers confronted by a gunman there. Often hijackings which his firm encounters involve drunk people trying to take the van or thieves stealing for a profit, and are usually “less sinister than this”.

He said the firm would not be returning to the estate, adding: “We’ve made arrangements with the two newsagents in Kilwilkie that we will make deliveries somewhere else, and they’ll have to go and pick them up.”

There have been a huge number of bomb alerts in the area in recent years, and councillor McCusker said that the latest one followed a republican “show of strength” at the weekend, with men dressed in paramilitary uniform parading through the town.

“I am in no doubt that last night’s violence in Lake Street was designed to try and heighten tensions ahead of the Apprentice Boys demonstration in the town today [Monday].”

Alistair Bushe, editor of the News Letter, declared himself “appalled” at the attack, adding: “It must’ve been a pretty traumatic ordeal for the men, and I hope they’re able to return to work speedily.”