Detectives are investigating an arson attack which caused extensive damage to a gospel hall near Lisburn.
Ballymagarrick Gospel Hall was badly damaged by the fire, which is believed to have been started sometime between 10pm on Saturday (February 3) and 8.55am on Sunday.
The building - situated on the Comber Road between Lisburn and Carryduff - was extensively smoke damaged. But according to a local councillor, only its fire retardant fixtures and fittings saved it from being completely gutted.
While a PSNI spokesman said officers are “investigating the circumstances in relation to a fire” at the hall, Councillor Luke Poots believes the blaze was started deliberately in a bid to destroy the building.
Condemning the attack as “disgusting”, the DUP man said: “On Sunday afternoon I met with members of the congregation who informed me the intruders had actually piled the chairs as high as possible on top of each other against the pulpit in an attempt to create a fire big enough to destroy the whole building.
“Praise has to be given to the members of Ballymagarrick Gospel Hall who when building their hall made sure the building was fire resistant; in fact even the seats the intruders stacked to set on fire were also fire resistant.”
Cllr Poots said the incident was the sixth attack on a church in the greater Lisburn area in the past year and called for attacks on places of worship to stop.
“I would appeal to anyone who witnessed anything suspicious between Saturday night and Sunday morning to contact the police,” the Downshire representative added.
Urging witnesses to come forward, Inspector Niall Collins said: “I would appeal to anyone who noticed any suspicious activity in the area of this hall to contact detectives at Lisburn Police Station on 101, quoting reference 509 of 04/02/18. Alternatively, information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, which is 100 per cent anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.”
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said fire crews from Lisburn, Carryduff and Belfast were tasked to the incident shortly before 9am on Sunday.
“Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus dealt with a ground floor fire in a non-residential building. The cause of the fire appears to be deliberate. The incident was dealt with at 10.16am,” she said.