Alert hits town trade

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THE business community in Lurgan is still reeling after the loss of thousands of pounds after traders were forced to abandon shop during a lengthy security alert.

Hundreds of people were forced to evacuate their homes and scores of traders had to shut down as Army Technical Officers worked on a suspected van outside Lurgan Police Station.

The van had been hijacked in the Lurgantarry area at around 5.30pm on Wednesday and the owner forced to drive it to the station. He was not injured but was left badly shaken.

Two controlled explosions were carried out on a van and it was declared a hoax with ATO finding nothing untoward found in the van.

Lurgan became a ghost town as pubs and food outlets shut on one of their busiest nights of the year.

It is understood several food outlets lost substantial amounts of produce after they were forced to flee from the scene. No one was given time to put away food and perishable items and a lot had to be dumped the next day.

Also many pubs who were expecting higher than usual customers due to the holidays had to shut completely.

Indeed a number of customers were forced to get dressed at speed after being evacuated from the Tan Stand in Church Place.

Chamber of Commerce Vice President Charlie Gardiner said: “The fact that the town was sealed off in the early evening, the fact that many of the food outlets in close proximity to the alert had to close at a peak time, they obviously incurred losses as they just had to walk away from their business.

“In light of the difficult economy, no business can afford these losses,” said Mr Gardiner.

“Anything that closes a town down is not only detrimental to the business community but the community at large,” he said.

SDLP Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly described the incident as ‘nothing more or less than a cruel and cynical attempt to disrupt the community at a time of year when tensions across the North are apt to run high’.

She said: “I cannot condemn enough anyone who would disrupt people’s home life to the extent that they have to leave their houses as the night draws in and I appeal to anyone with any information to pass it on to the police as a matter of urgency.

“Acts like this have no place in a society which is trying to move away from a culture of fear and mistrust and I hope that those behind it are swiftly apprehended and brought to justice.”

The DUP trio of Alderman Stephen Moutray MLA, Cllr Carla Lockhart and Cllr Mark Baxter issued a joint statement condemning the alert.

They said: “We as elected representatives for the area made our way to the scene and it was a stark reminder of past days in Lurgan. This was a deplorable act and one that is totally unacceptable.

“Our thoughts are with the delivery van driver who is badly shaken at this time.

“We would call for an end to this dangerous and unnecessary type of behaviour. This is a small minority of people trying to drag Lurgan back to the dark days.

“We would call on anyone that has any information concerning this recent incident to come forward to the PSNI and report it.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said that no one in Lurgan wanted to return to the dark days of the past.

“By their actions, those responsible placed the lives of members of the public and PSNI officers in danger, caused widespread concern and disruption to the local community, and there can be no justification for this whatsoever,” she added.

“I commend those members of the emergency services for their swift action in cordoning off the area, transferring members of the public to a safe distance, and dealing professionally with the incident.”