Boy, 13, in court on school arson charge

A 13-year-old boy will today appear in court charged with an arson attack on a Catholic primary school in Ballymena.

A 13-year-old boy will today appear in court charged with an arson attack on a Catholic primary school in Ballymena.

Police are still questioning a 15-year-old boy in connection with the fire at St Louis Primary School in the Co Antrim town.

Patrols were stepped up last night after Superintendent Terry Shevlin, the District Commander, yesterday said more officers were needed to combat sectarian attacks on Catholic property.

The announcement came as the Northern Ireland Office claimed crime levels in the North had fallen to their lowest in recent years.

The number of offences recorded by police between 2003/2004 and 2004/2005 dropped by 8% from 127,953 to 118,124 – the lowest recorded since 1998/1999.

A classroom window at St Louis’ Primary School on the Cullybackey Road was forced open on Tuesday night and petrol poured in and set on fire.

The blaze damaged the floor and blackened the room and surrounding area.

A police spokesman last night confirmed a 13-year-old has been charged with arson and will today appear before Ballymena Magistrates Court.

The latest attack happened a day after five petrol bombs were thrown into the canteen and library of St Mary’s Primary School in the Harryville area of the town.

A Catholic church in Harryville was targeted in recent weeks in paint bomb attacks.

Catholic homes and property have also been attacked in the village of Ahoghill, where police issued families with fire blankets, and in Rasharkin.

Mr Shevlin said the new resources would enable him to mount static police operations at vulnerable targets, such as Catholic schools.

“This is in addition to patrols in places like Dunclug, Ahoghill and Harryville, where there have been recent disturbances, and patrols aimed at disrupting the activities of those involved in the loyalist feud,” he said.

“These are all operations that will be obvious for all to see, but I am also deploying resources for covert patrolling.

“This is an immediate response, but it is not one that we can sustain over a long period.”

Mr Shevlin said the community must play its part in stopping the attacks.

Gordon Topping, chief executive of the North Eastern Education and Library Board, said the attacks affected all schools.

“The money to repair the damage and replace equipment and materials all comes out of the one pot,” he said.

“All schools and all children suffer because the funds are limited. The vandals may as well attack the school their families attend. The effect is the same.”

Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley has condemned the attacks in his North Antrim constituency but dismissed criticism from nationalists that his party had not done enough in the face of the violence.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP both said it was vital opposing politicians worked together in the current climate to tackle the problem.

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