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Drunk man who attacked Catholic church avoids jail

By Michael Donnelly

Published 03/06/2016

Attack: Kieran Clarke
Attack: Kieran Clarke

A Co Down man who attacked a Catholic church has been given three years' probation.

Newry Crown Court was told that Kieran Clarke was delusional and drunk when he vented his anger on a priest's car before breaking into Our Lady of the Angels Church in Kilkeel, smashing and vandalising crosses, statues, pews and windows.

The 24-year-old, from Rooney Park in the town, admitted to two charges of criminal damage of more than £16,000 on the VW Passat of Fr Michael Eugene Murray and his church on July 10, 2014.

At the time, the attack was condemned by senior Co Down Orangeman Drew Nelson.

Judge Kevin Finnegan QC said while the incident was an outrageous criminal act, it was also triggered by alcohol and stemmed from Clarke's long-standing mental health problems and issues with the status of organised religion.

Judge Finnegan said he was glad it was acknowledged by the defence that there was no suggestion that Fr Murray, his church, parochial house or parish had any involvement in Clarke's problems.

The judge added Clarke had a history of mental health issues and said he was satisfied that the defendant's apologies and remorse were genuine. Given his guilty pleas, good character and other issues, he ruled it would be wrong to impose an immediate custodial sentence.

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