03 November 2005

Bomb hoax 'could scupper investment'

Belfast Telegraph

By Claire Regan
03 November 2005

A hoax bomb alert which forced thousands of delegates to evacuate one of the biggest conferences ever held in Belfast could endanger new investment, the Secretary of State warned last night.

Peter Hain spoke of his concerns after the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) event was forced to abandon the Waterfront Hall when the telephoned alert was made at about 11.15am yesterday. Around 2,000 delegates were evacuated to the nearby St George's Market.

"I told the conference on Tuesday Belfast is the best place in Europe in which to invest," Mr Hain said.

"We have the potential to benefit from multi-million pound investment and those who threaten investment are trying to kill jobs and are enemies of everyone working for a better future."

The three day event, the largest private sector conference ever held in Belfast, relocated to the Ulster Hall where Senator George Mitchell presented the final keynote address.

The alert was cleared by 4pm. A police spokeswoman confirmed nothing was found.

BCSC conference chairman, Martyn Chase, said: "We carried on as normal. We have had a wonderful welcome and a great conference."

Despite these assurances, deputy SDLP leader, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, said he also fears the alert will have a lasting impact.

"All the positive potential that this conference held for Belfast and its future economic and tourism development has been put at risk as, once again, our old problems came back to haunt us," he said.

"To see delegates herded out of the Waterfront and onto the streets because of a bomb scare was disheartening to say the least. This is not the image of Belfast, and indeed of Northern Ireland, that we wanted delegates to take away with them.

"But the stark reality is that this is exactly what will happen. The one memory that will stand out in the mind of those 2,000 people is their conference being interrupted by a bomb scare."

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