Community ‘angered’ at arson attack on Downe

Community ‘angered’ at arson attack on Downe

17 February 2021

CALLS have been issued for security to be beefed up at the former Downe Hospital site in Downpatrick following an arson attack.

A major emergency was declared on Tuesday evening of last week after the main building at the Pound Lane site — which enjoys protected status — was set alight and several rooms damaged.

Flames and smoke poured from the ground and first floors of the Victorian building at the huge site which is being redeveloped by Clanmill to provide a major social housing scheme.

Nine fire appliances, including a specialist vehicle to allow firefighters to tackle the blaze from the air, responded to the incident, with flames eventually put out around 12.20am, four hours after the alarm had been raised.

Calls for increased security at the site come two weeks after a security guard at the old hospital complex was assaulted by youths after they were refused access to the area to drink alcohol. A builder’s skip was also set on fire.

Outraged politicians, who have called for increased patrols at this part of the town, have also expressed anger at the arson attack and called for stern action to be taken against anti-social elements running amok in various parts of the town. 

They have also praised the swift response of the emergency services for the work they did to prevent the blaze from spreading, with the politicians also appealing to anyone who can assist police with their enquiries to come forward.

The Fire and Rescue Service, which believes that the fire was started deliberately, confirmed that in addition to fighting the blaze from the air, firemen entered the old hospital wearing breathing apparatus to tackle the fire.

Political condemnation of the arsonists was led by South Down MP Chris Hazzard.

He said the local community was “angered” to see another fire at the old Downe Hospital site and commended the emergency services response at a time “when they do not need this type of incident”.

The MP added: “I would encourage anyone with information on how this blaze started to come forward to the PSNI.”

South Down MLA Colin McGrath urged police to take “swift action” after the iconic building was targeted by arsonists.

“I was very sad to see the fire and damage to the old hospital building, with the site under reconstruction to provide much-needed social homes in the Downpatrick area,” he said.

“The old Downe is an iconic building in Downpatrick and has a connection to the rich, caring and health service heritage of our town and local people.”

Mr McGrath said the cause of the blaze must be determined quickly, followed by swift police action to apprehend those responsible.

Downpatrick councillors Oonagh Hanlon and Dermot Curran said they were disappointed that the former hospital building had been targeted again.

Cllr Hanlon confirmed that she spoke with Clanmill officials after the blaze, revealing that they shared her concerns and asked for security at the site to be increased.

“I have also raised concerns with local police and asked for increased patrols at this part of the town,” she continued. “The social housing scheme is one of the positive projects seen in Downpatrick in recent years.

“For those who are in housing stress, the development will provide an opportunity to settle and make a home for life. Those who carry out arson attacks such as the one witnesses last week do not care for their own community.”

Cllr Hanlon added: “If anyone witnessed suspicious behaviour in old Downe Hospital area I would encourage them to report to PSNI. The culprits responsible need to be held to account for their actions.”

Cllr Curran said last week’s fire provided further evidence of the need to tackle Downpatrick’s anti-social behaviour issue.

“The former hospital site is being transformed to provide much-needed social homes for people on an ever lengthening waiting list,” he said.

“This development can help boost the social and economic regeneration of this part of the town and vandals responsible for the fire will not and must not be allowed to hold anyone to ransom. Anti-social behaviour has become a major issue and one that need to get on top of.

“We cannot have young people thumbing their nose at the law. They are most certainly not above it  and I hope those who targeted the old Downe will be apprehended. 

Such despicable behaviour must not continue.”

Slieve Croob councillor, Alan Lewis, said the arson attack at the old Downe Hospital represensts “recreational vandalism” and said there is no excuse for what he described as “such reckless stupidity”.

Praising the response from the emergency services, Cllr Lewis said it was unacceptable that firefighters had been placed in harm’s way as they tackled the malicious fire.

“Have those responsible for this fire no moral judgemen and have they any understanding of right and wrong? Their actions aren’t just foolish they are dangerous. Luring firefighters into such a situation is attempted murder in my opinion,hr declared.

Cllr Lewis said that the PSNI, the Policing and Community Safety Parthnership and politicians have a collective responsibility to help tackle anti-social behaviour, insisting that those who targeted the former hospital are not above the law and should face “huge consequences” if they are caught. He also confirmed that he has outlined his concerns to the Public Prosecution Service.

Police investigating the arson attack have issued an appeal for information and are keen to hear from, anyone who may have noticed any suspicious activity in the vicinity of the old hospital after teatime last Tuesday to get in touch.

Anyone who can help is asked to contact officers on the non-emergency 101 number, quoting reference reference 1750 09/02/21.

Information can also be provided online via or by using the confidential Crimestoppers number 0800 555 111.