A teenager allegedly started a fire which destroyed buildings and caused more than £3m worth of damage to businesses in Belfast city centre, a court heard on Tuesday.
Police claimed Patrick Gough was responsible for the blaze that broke out in a coffee shop before spreading to engulf neighbouring historic properties in the Cathedral Quarter.
The 18-year-old, of Victoria Street in Belfast, was remanded in custody on a charge of arson with intent to endanger life.
Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard PSNI officers on mobile patrol first spotted smoke billowing from the nearby Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman’s offices on Church Street at 5.38am.
An investigating detective revealed that the blaze is believed to have started in the upper floors of Neighbourhood Café, before spreading rapidly to other properties.
“The fire caused significant damage and destroyed the buildings as well as having a huge impact on businesses nearby in the city centre due to closures,” she said.
“The early estimate of the damage is around £3m, although this is expected to rise considerably as the extent of the victims’ losses becomes known.”
The court heard police viewed CCTV footage which showed a male climbing down scaffolding on the side of the Police Ombudsman’s building at around 5.20am.
As the emergency services fought to control the outbreak, a man walked into Writer’s Square to observe the fire.
“CCTV operators were able to confirm this was the same male seen climbing down the scaffolding in earlier CCTV,” the detective said.
Gough was then arrested on suspicion of carrying out the arson attack.
He is further charged with burglary and drugs offences on the same date.
District Judge Mark McGarrity was told three bottles of spirits valued at £96 were stolen during an alleged break-in at a nearby restaurant in St Anne’s Square.
The bottles of alcohol and a small quantity of cannabis were recovered during searches at Gough’s home address, the detective claimed.
Defence solicitor Joe Mulholland confirmed that Gough denies the offences.
“The height of the case against him is a clothing description,” Mr Mulholland insisted.
“It’s not a forensic connection, it’s not DNA.”
During cross-examination, he put it to the detective: “We don’t even know whether it was an arson or not.”
Refusing bail, however, Mr McGarrity cited the potential risk of re-offending.
He remanded Gough in custody, to appear again by video-link on November 1.
Meanwhile, thousands of pounds have been raised in a fundraiser set up for people and businesses impacted by the arson attack within just 24 hours.
The organiser of the fundraiser said she put it together after requests for help after people lost their work, technology and equipment in the blaze.
"We obviously never expect to recuperate the majority of our losses as the fire has destroyed everything, but any donations will help us to try get back a little bit of what we have lost in terms of income, computers, and other smaller objects," said Jennifer Mehigan on the Go Fund Me page.
"Most of the losses are intangible and irreplaceable, artwork, sketchbooks, and research etc.
"Please only help if you can, even a share makes such a difference, and we know times are tough for everyone right now."
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