Man ‘doused customers and set fire to Belfast clothes shop’

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A man allegedly set fire to a Belfast clothes shop while three people were inside it, a court has heard.

Gareth Lusty is accused of throwing liquid over two customers and on to the counter at Rip-Off as a 71-year-old member of staff looked on.

Police claim he then poured the rest of the contents of a canister around the doorway to the Donegall Street store before setting it alight on February 23.

Lusty, 36, of Mount Vernon House on the city’s Shore Road, appeared before Belfast Magistrates’ Court charged with arson with intent to endanger life.

He also faces a further count of possessing cannabis.

Lusty was granted bail but banned from entering Donegall Street or having any accelerant in public.

The arson attack was carried out after a man was asked to leave Rip-Off for being a “nuisance” to staff, according to police.

As he exited he allegedly said: “I hope you like your shop because in two days time it’s going up.”

A detective told the court that the same man returned within an hour while the elderly assistant was working.

It was claimed he had a jerry can which he used to douse areas of the store, and also to throw some liquid over the customers.

More of the contents were poured around the door, which was set on fire before the man left.

All three people inside managed to escape without injury.

CCTV footage allegedly shows Lusty purchasing the canister before the incident, the court heard.

The detective said searches based on information linking the accused to the arson resulted in the seizure of clothing and drugs.

Lusty was subsequently arrested on Monday and charged with the offences.

Opposing bail, the detective claimed there was a danger to the public based on the accused’s alleged actions and drug addiction.

“He has threatened staff in this complex, come back with a jerry can and set fire to it,” the officer said.

“We think it’s irrational behaviour.”

Disputing the quality of the CCTV footage, defence solicitor Noel Phoenix stressed Lusty has not admitted the arson attack.

He added: “If it was (him), nothing has happened in the meantime to suggest some sort of rampage.”

Granting bail, District Judge Liam McNally also imposed a curfew and electronic monitoring conditions.

Lusty is due back in court on March 27.