Discoverer of Undertones calls for fresh inquiry into 2004 blaze that destroyed huge collection of Northern Irish punk
It was a blaze that wrecked businesses, destroyed 50,000 vinyl records and left a large part of Northern Ireland’s punk history in ashes – but the culprit has never been found.
Now Terri Hooley, the new-wave impresario who discovered the Undertones, is hoping that publicity around a cult Ulster punk movie will spur the Police Service of Northern Ireland to reopen its investigation.
Hooley ran the Belfast record shop Good Vibrations, a 1970s centre of Northern Ireland punk whose record label released the Undertones’ single Teenage Kicks. But a firebomb attack in April 2004 destroyed a huge collection of his records, artwork from the punk era, rare posters and photographs as well as newspaper and magazine cuttings.
Hooley branded the initial inquiry into the arson attack in the art deco North Street Arcade a “sick joke”. But now the story of Good Vibrations has been turned into a movie of the same name and Hooley is hoping its release last month will kickstart a campaign to bring those behind the blaze to justice.
Hooley and other traders in the arcade – 20 businesses were destroyed in the arson – have also demanded a public inquiry.
Back from a tour of Moscow, where Good Vibrations – which received a four-star film review from the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw – has become a hit with young Russians, Hooley said: “We have never forgotten what was done to us. I want to use the publicity around the film to put it up to the PSNI and get them to take this seriously again. Twenty-three shops and art centres were burned out.
“The PSNI should tell us who they interviewed about this fire and talk to the owners again about who we believe were behind the arson. This was one of the worst acts of urban vandalism in post-ceasefire Belfast.”
Hooley also revealed that in the months after the blaze he and other owners received threatening calls. “They didn’t mention the fire but amid all the publicity I started receiving phone calls, including one from a man who reminded me: ‘You have a young son.’
“I told them they would never intimidate me just as the paramilitaries never intimidated me when I had Good Vibrations going in the 70s.”
A PSNI spokesman said the inquiry remained open. “All lines of inquiry were pursued at the time of the incident. The file remains open and the investigation is still live,” the spokesman said, urging anyone with information to contact the police or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
A spokesman for the police ombudsman’s office in Northern Ireland, which investigates complaints about policing, said Hooley and the other former key-holders of North Street Arcade still had the right to file a complaint once the PSNI inquiry was complete.
North Street Arcade, in the Cathedral Quarter area of Belfast, was built in the art deco style in 1936 and was regarded as a chic shopping mall that lifted the spirits of passersby and shoppers alike during the depression.
In the early 1990s, as the area around became run down, it evolved into a home for alternative record shops, punk and Gothic clothes shops and hairdressers as well as a haven for artists.