Petrol bomb attack at home of vulnerable man was ‘case of mistaken identity’

Scorch damage was caused to the front of the property at Hillview Terrace, Banbridge. Pic by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker Press
Scorch damage was caused to the front of the property at Hillview Terrace, Banbridge. Pic by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker Press

A petrol bomb attack on the home of a 39-year-old Banbridge man who has a severe learning disability was “a case of mistaken identity”, his father has said.

William Henning was in bed at his Hillview Terrace home on Dromore Street when a petrol bomb was hurled at the front of the property in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The scene of the arson attack at Hillview Terrace in Banbridge on Sunday morning.' 'Pic by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker Press

The scene of the arson attack at Hillview Terrace in Banbridge on Sunday morning.' 'Pic by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker Press

Mr Henning wasn’t hurt in the attack, but he has been forced to move out of his home temporarily until repairs can be carried out.

His father, Evan Henning, said his son is currently back home with his family recovering from his traumatic experience.

“William was in bed at half five in the morning when the petrol bomb was lobbed at the house.

“They must’ve tried it a couple of times. The first time the window didn’t break and the second time they tried the upstairs window. It broke the window, but thankfully the petrol bomb didn’t go through and just dropped back down to the ground and caused smoke damage up the front of the house,” said Evan Henning.

An upstairs window was smashed during the early morning attack. Pic by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker Press

An upstairs window was smashed during the early morning attack. Pic by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker Press

“One of the taxi men in the town happened to be passing and he saw the petrol bomb burning at the front of the house and he raised the alarm immediately and the fire service and police were there within a matter minutes.

“William had obviously heard the window breaking, but then he heard the commotion outside and got up to have a look and by that stage the police and fire service were there.”

Mr Henning, who ran a butcher’s shop in the town for more than 30 years before retiring last year, said his son wasn’t injured, but had been left terrified by the attack.

“He’s okay thankfully. Obviously he was very much traumatised at the time, but he’s at home here now with us and we’re looking after him until we get the house sorted and back into some sort of liveable state again.

“With support of his family, friends and social workers he’s coming on alright and he’ll be okay. Once we get a few things done for him at the house he’s looking forward to moving back in. He’s happy enough to go back.”

While it’s not known who was behind the attack, or the reason for it, Mr Henning said his family has received confirmation that William was not the intended target.

“We’ve been told that it was a case of mistaken identity,” he continued. “William doesn’t have an enemy so there could be no reason to target him. It was just a total and absolute case of mistaken identity.”

Regardless of the motive for the attack, or the intended target, Mr Henning stressed that such reckless behaviour “cannot be tolerated”.

Echoing that point, local UUP Councillor Glenn Barr said the attack could have been “devastating” for William and those living in neighbouring properties.

“It’s scary to think that there are people skulking around in the darkness with these devices. This could have had a devastating impact,” he commented. “I have known the victim for many years now. He is such a character and friends with everyone and my thoughts are with him, his family and his neighbours.”

Cllr Barr appealed for anyone with information about who was responsible for the petrol bombing to contact police.

The attack, which occurred at around 5:30am, has also been condemned by Upper Bann MLAs Carla Lockhart and John O’Dowd.

“My thoughts are with the young man who awoke to the shock of this petrol bomb attack on his property. There is no doubt that those who engaged in this activity wanted to cause serious damage and could have caused severe injury or death,” Ms Lockhart said.

The DUP representative said police have confirmed to her that there is no known reason why the victim was targeted, and she said those responsible must face “the full force of the law”.

“I would like to thank the PSNI and the local community who have rallied around this well known family. The young man is a vulnerable adult with learning difficulties and someone who is known and loved throughout the area. It is vital that anyone with any information comes forward and reports it to the PSNI. It is important that closure is brought to this case and the real rationale and reason for this attack is established,” she said.

Mr O’Dowd added: “The perpetrators could have killed this young man and others.

“I would appeal to anyone with information to bring it forward to the PSNI immediately.”

Detectives investigating the incident said those who carried out the attack on Mr Henning’s home had shown “a total disregard for life.”

Detective Constable Flanigan said: “I would appeal to anyone who noticed any suspicious activity at all in the area to contact detectives at Lurgan on the non-emergency number 101, quoting reference 354 18/02/18. I am also keen to speak to the driver of a dark coloured car that was seen in the area, as they may have information that would help with our enquiries. Alternatively, information can also be reported 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.”

Meanwhile, Downshire Guiding Star Flute Band has said its members will be rallying around William to help him get back on his feet after Sunday’s attack.

Bandmaster Richie Adamson said: “William has been a member of the band for over 20 years and received his long service award at the band’s 35th anniversary gala ball. We know William is a kind-hearted man who wouldn’t do anything to harm anyone so it is obviously a case of mistaken identity and we are relieved he escaped the incident unharmed.

“The band has no time for the people who carry out these senseless acts and we would appeal for anyone with any information to contact the authorities. The members will be rallying behind William and helping to get him back on his feet in any way possible during this difficult time.”