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19 May 2022

'Despicable' vandalism on County Derry church condemned

Local representatives have condemned the incident that occurred on Saturday.

'Despicable' vandalism on County Derry church condemned

The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Magherafelt, where the incident took place on Saturday.

A weekend incident during which £1,000 of damage was caused to a County Derry church has been described as 'despicable' by a local representative.

A lock was damaged, candles broken, a vase smashed and Bibles and holy books thrown around during the incident at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Magherafelt on Saturday afternoon.

Two youths aged 11 and 15 appeared at Derry Magistrates Court yesterday in connection with the incident, while a 13-year-old is due to appear at Magherafelt Magistrates Court next month.

Parish priest Fr John Gates was on his way to say evening mass when he confronted the youths, who were 'interfering' with a defibrillator close to the premises on King Street.

A court heard that sectarian language had been directed at the priest during the incident, and a lighter thrown at him by one of the defendants.

Inside he discovered the vandalism, and after alerting the police, the three youths were identified from CCTV at the premises.

Saturday night mass had to be moved to the nearby parish centre as a result of the damage, with police later confirming they were treating the incident as a hate crime.

The defibrillator the three boys allegedly interfered with has also been sent away to be checked for any damage.

SDLP election candidate in Mid Ulster, Patsy McGlone, has condemned the incident.

Opposing bail, an officer told Derry Magistrates Court that the children were 'congregating in groups' and were 'out of control', and said events were 'aggravated by hostility'.

Former MLA and current Assembly Election candidate for Mid Ulster, the SDLP's Patsy McGlone, condemned the incident on Saturday evening.

“Magherafelt is a town where this sort of sectarian behaviour is out of place,” he said.

“To attack a place of worship is just despicable. The church is a place of prayer and reflection where people can go confident they can do so quietly and safely.

“I hope that these vandals who have sought to disrupt that sanctity will be made pay for their actions.”

DUP group lead on Mid Ulster District Council, Cllr Paul McLean said he was 'saddened' by the news.

"I am very saddened and disappointed by the news that some youths were tampering or vandalising a defibrillator; a piece of equipment which was purchased by the community for the saving of life," he said.

"To enter a place of worship and damage any of the contents was even more appalling and something that very right thinking person must condemn.

"Questions must be asked of parents - do they know where your children is and what they are doing, especially now as we’re approaching the summer evenings and the holiday period?"

There was condemnation also from Sinn Féin's Mid Ulster Assembly Election candidate, Emma Sheerin, and local councillor Darren Totten.

“No one should be subjected to abuse in a public space, especially in a place of worship. This is disappointing to see and should be condemned,” said Ms Sheerin.

Cllr Totten urged 'sensitivity' in the reaction to the event, and said he hoped there would be no repeat of the behaviour.

“It's important that this is dealt with appropriately. Abuse like this should not be tolerated and hopefully this will be the end of it,” he added.

The church was also a target for vandalism last year, when a number of stained glass windows were smashed, causing £4,000-worth of damage.

A 37-year-old woman was subsequently arrested and convicted as a result of the incident in August 2021.

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