Arrest made after hijacking and bomb scare forced Belfast peace event to be evacuated

Arrest made after hijacking and bomb scare forced Belfast peace event to be evacuated

POLICE in Belfast investigating a hijacking and bomb scare that led to the evacuation of a peace and reconciliation event on Friday have made an arrest.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney was among those evacuated from the event at the Houben Centre, while a funeral in the adjacent Holy Cross Church was also disrupted.

More than 25 homes were evacuated, while residents in a nearby care home had to be moved to another part of the site.

This morning, the PSNI confirmed they had arrested a 38-year-old woman on suspicion of possessing a firearm in suspicious circumstances, possessing criminal property and concealing criminal property.

It follows searches in the Ballysillan and Springmartin areas of Belfast on Saturday evening, during which a suspected firearm, drugs, cash and two vehicles were recovered.


Friday's security alert appeared to be an attempt to disrupt the peace-building event at the cross-community Houben Centre, which sits on the interface between the Ardoyne and Shankill areas.

Mr Coveney was giving a keynote speech at the event, which was organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation.

It was evacuated after a van was hijacked on the Shankill Road and a device placed inside, before the driver was forced to drive to the church.

Speaking on Friday evening, ACC Mark McEwan condemned those responsible for the 'shameful' incident.

"Just think about this, the victim believed at this point he was driving a van containing a live bomb and that his family were being threatened," he said.

"The local community were also impacted. Over 25 homes were evacuated, local schools were affected, and vulnerable residents in a local nursing home had to be moved to another part of their home.

"Most shamefully, a funeral taking place in the church was disrupted, causing further grief to that family.

"This evening, upon further examination, the device has been declared a hoax.

"It was clearly designed to cause maximum disruption to the local community.

"At this early stage of the investigation our assessment is that these crimes were carried out by loyalist paramilitary groups.

“We are keeping an open mind at this stage but one of the primary lines of investigation is the UVF."

'People of courage'

The incident drew widespread condemnation, however the Hume Foundation later tweeted that it 'remains unwavering in our commitment to continue the journey of peace & reconciliation'.

It also offered its sympathies to the van driver and to the mourners at the funeral.

"These are real people of courage not masked men who threaten violence," it added.