Two men locked in in Newry bar arson attack
A gang who locked in two men at the back of a bar in Newry, County Down and then set the pub on fire could have caused their deaths, it has been claimed.
It is believed four men burst into McCoy's Bar on Kilmorey Street at about 23:30 BST on Sunday and tied up two members of staff in the back yard.
They sprinkled petrol in the pub and set it alight, leaving the men trapped.
Firefighters heard the men shouting for help and used a ladder to rescue them.
The pair, one of whom was the bar owner, were treated in hospital for shock and the effects of breathing in smoke.
There are local reports that the staff members were also badly beaten.
The police have said they are treating the incident as arson with intent to endanger life.
At the height of the blaze, 60 fire officers and 12 appliances were involved.
The fire has since been extinguished but the roof and the interior of the bar have been extensively damaged.
The police are trying to establish a motive for the attack which came a short time after an earlier altercation involving a small group of customers in the bar.
One man who was in McCoys on Sunday night told the BBC that, shortly before the arson attack, a number of people who had been drinking in the premises were asked to leave.
The witness claimed that as they did so, the group smashed a television and broke the bar's front windows.
The PSNI confirmed that a link to the earlier incident was a primary line of enquiry in their investigation.
SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh, Dominic Bradley, said: "I think this incident had the potential to bring about death and that is the most frightening aspect.
"Premises can be rebuilt, but if a life, or lives are lost they cannot be replaced."
Fire and Rescue Service Group Commander for the area Randy McComb said it was one of the largest fires he had attended in a long time.
"When the first crews arrived on the scene they attempted to gain access to the front of the building. Then they heard shouts coming from the rear of the premises," he said.
"A crew went round the back and using a short extension ladder they rescued two casualties from the rear of the premises which was heavily smoke-logged."
Mr McComb said it had been a complex operation.
"The crews worked valiantly throughout the night," he said.
"Their main objective was to prevent it spreading to adjoining premises. Unfortunately... the fire was so intense, and spread so rapidly, that it was difficult to save the building."
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and PSNI officers remain at the scene.
Kilmorey Street has now opened.
Drivers of HGVs and those travelling to Warrenpoint harbour are advised to avoid the area and take an alternative route via Mayobridge, Hilltown or Rostrevor.