Rival publishers rushed to offer help to The Belfast Telegraph when its printing presses were wrecked by fire, even before the damage had been fully assessed, writes Jean Morgan.
The evening paper was able to get 90 per cent of its print run out on Tuesday by taking up the offer of printing space from Morton Newspapers, based 20 miles away in Craigavon, and from Spectator Newspapers in Bangor, County Down. It should have been a 40-page, two-section broadsheet, but fused the two sections to come out with one 32-page paper.
The Telegraph had finished its print run on Monday when the fire broke out in the press hall at 7.52pm. Staff were then readying the two Goss Metroliner presses for contract printing of Northern Ireland editions of The Daily Telegraph, The Sun and The Independent. Forty firefighters tackled the blaze, thought to have been started when a spark from a welding operation landed on paper. No one was injured and the editorial and advertising floors were left unscathed except for the acrid smell of smoke.
Editor Ed Curran said senior executives came in as soon as they heard about the fire and decided the 133-year-old paper must come out. “It has a long tradition of never not being published,” he said. “No one can recall The Belfast Telegraph not appearing, even throughout the past 30 years in the worst days of Northern Ireland’s violence. We were bombed in 1976 and that was an even more serious incident than this one because the press was very seriously damaged by the explosion and a man was killed and many others injured.
“But on that occasion the Spectator also printed an edition of the Telegraph for us.”
The Telegraph building was also hit by German bombs in World War Two and still came out.
Tuesday’s edition, he said, looked “as though nothing had ever happened except that the front-page story is our own”. He paid a big tribute to the Northern Ireland Fire Service for averting a disaster.
Experts from the press manufacturer were assessing how soon it would take to get them working again. Curran was hopeful that one would be back in action this week.
UK-based nationals are either flying in their copies or are making alternative printing arrangements in Northern Ireland.