THE owners of the Centra filling station on the O’Neill Road near Rathcoole have told how staff and customers had to endure a terrifying ordeal when loyalist thugs smashed their way into the shop on Friday night (January 4).
A group of several men who had been taking part in a flag protest in the area burst into the petrol station and convenience store shortly after 8pm, knocking the automatic sliding doors off their hinges.
They looted stock and wrecked fixtures and fittings, causing over £10,000 worth of damage, all while customers and staff watched on in shock.
One of the men threatened two staff members with a bottle before he stole a sum of cash from the till. Staff were said to have been left shocked and distressed by the ordeal.
The petrol station’s management said they did not know who was responsible for the attack, however, police have confirmed that some of those taking part in a nearby loyalist flag protest were...
Violence broke out after the protest at the O’Neill Road/Prince Charles Way roundabout against Belfast City Council’s decision to restrict the number of days it flies the Union flag at City Hall.
Police came under attack with tin cans stolen from the petrol station and other items including stones and bottles.
One police officer was injured in the disturbance which lasted several hours, although his injuries were not thought to be life threatening.
Sandra Mogey, company secretary for the O’Neill Road filling station said the attack and robbery on the store was “pure vandalism”.
“They kicked through the sliding doors taking them off the hinges and started smashing up the shop. It was complete mayhem and pure vandalism,” she told the Times.
“There were two staff on at the time and about half a dozen customers, including one elderly lady, and I have to say our staff did well to get them out of the store to safety.
“Our staff were both left really distressed after the incident and one of them said she is considering not coming back to work because of it.”
Sandra said the man who robbed the money from the till was wearing a royal blue hoodie with a distinctive logo or brand name on the front and had his face covered with only his eyes visible.
“It all happened within seconds. I don’t know who was behind it, but there was a large crowd of people across the road outside Rathcoole and a protest going on at the roundabout,” she added.
“I know nothing about the protests, but this incident would put you off business altogether.”
Management worked late in the shop to clear the damage and the petrol station was reopened for business as usual at 6am on Saturday morning.
“Everyone from across the community has come together to offer us support and we are very thankful to them for it,” business owner Richard Lusty commented.
“It appears this was just a few people who let the community down. We are very much a community store; the staff in the store at the time live locally and have given me about 15 years of service combined, so it is their livelihoods as well as my own we are talking about here.
“With these protests business has been affected, but it is not just my business I am sure it is right across Newtownabbey and this incident, which has caused over £10,000 worth of damage, just takes matters to a new level.”
A police spokeswoman confirmed that the male who threatened staff with the bottle was wearing a blue hooded top with a yellow “Aztec type pattern” on the chest and blue tracksuit bottoms.
Investigating officers have appealed for anyone with information to contact Newtownabbey CID on 0845 600 8000 or the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.