Young mother ‘petrified’ during arson attack at flat

Sinn Fein Councillor Aileen Mellon pictured at the flat yesterday.
Sinn Fein Councillor Aileen Mellon pictured at the flat yesterday.

Residents in Galliagh have called for CCTV after the lives of a young mother and her son were endangered when a gang wedged a sofa outside her front door at set it alight.

Lauren Harkin (23) said she and her five-years-old son were lucky to be alive following the arson attack at their flat in Galliagh Park shortly before 10pm on Sunday.

The gang also set fire to rubbish which they had placed underneath the child’s bedroom window in what was the latest in a litany of attacks residents along the flats have had to endure.

Ms. Harkin, who is now too afraid to stay at her address, said it was only when she went to check on her sleeping son in his bedroom that she saw the flames at the front door.

“I went to check on him and seen the flames up through the glass in the door. I opened to door- I thought the fire was at the steps - but I realised it was my front door so I rang the fire brigade, went and got my son and went to the kitchen. I was petrified.

After being rescued through the kitchen window of the ground floor flat by the fire brigade, Ms. Harkin also noticed smoke from the rear garden from rubbish bins set on fire outside her son’s bedroom window.

“There’s child’s curtains on there so they must have known it was a child’s room,” she said, adding: “I was petrified. It was absolutely horrifying. I didn’t know what was going to happen”

Sinn Féin Councillor for the area Aileen Mellon expressed disgust at the callousness of the attack. “This was a premeditated attack on a defenceless woman and follows her wheelie bins being set on fire a few weeks previously. She said she is afraid to confront young people when hanging around her home and is living in fear.

“I have also been contacted by other neighbours who also voiced frustration after challenging this gang to leave the properties alone but getting nowhere.”

Appealing for information, the PSNI said the mother and child have been left badly shaken.

“This was a reckless act that could have resulted in fatalities. Whoever was involved wanted to cause death and destruction and their actions should be condemned by the local community,” they said.

One local man said CCTV was now a necessity to help eradicate the ongoing nightmare residents were being subjected to.

The man also said that if police do not patrol the area on foot, then there are plans to set up a local vigilante group to tackle the problem.

He said the gang had recently destroyed safety railing at another young mother’s top floor flat, meaning her child could have easily fallen off a ledge and been killed or seriously injured, while there have also been repeated incidents of bins being stolen and set alight on the banking and homes being targeted with stones and other missiles and thefts. During one recent episode a resident, who suffers with mental health issues, was robbed of his money and medication as the culprits stabbed him in the cheek with a knife.

“It’s bloody terrible,” he said. “The fire brigade never leave the place. We need CCTV here. We are looking at starting a vigilante group if police don’t start walking about. Why are parents of these 15/16 year olds not being penalised and moved out of the area by the housing bodies?”

He said the problem has been compounded by street lamps removed from the area not being replaced.

Anyone with information about the arson attack is asked to call 101, quoting reference number 1306 25/11/18 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.