Belfast Telegraph

Woman suffers burns trying to put out blaze as Belfast church is attacked

By Brett Campbell

An elderly parishioner has been treated for minor injuries following attacks on two different churches within the space of an hour.

Booklets and a wooden prayer stool were set alight in a back room of St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street in Belfast shortly after 6pm on Monday evening.

The woman, aged in her 70s, was in the church at the time and received burns to her hands as she attempted to extinguish the blaze before fire crews arrived.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Down and Connor said he does not believe there was a sectarian motive behind the attack.

"This parish sees itself as a church of the people and for the people and because of this there are always people in the building," he explained.

"The fire alarm went off and a lady happened to be in the church at the time. She saw smoke and when she went to investigate she discovered the fire.

"In an attempt to remove the booklets from the building she ended up burning her hands."

No structural damage was caused and there was no impact on services including a 'mass of hope' for the city's homeless community which was held last night.

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker has condemned the attack and described it as "totally unacceptable".

"Any attack on any church is an attack on all of the community,'' he said.

"Last night, the church shared a message of hope and reached out to Belfast's homeless with the launch of a soup kitchen which shows the positive work St Patrick's do daily, and the church plays a vital role in the north Belfast community and Belfast as a whole."

Mr McCusker said it is totally unacceptable and disappointing because a review of security could result in restricted access which will impact on those who use the church the most.

The fire comes almost three months after someone set fire to a set of velvet curtains worth £10,000 which caused damage to the church.

In a separate incident on Monday evening, a small prayer book was set on fire at St Brigid's Church in south Belfast at around 7pm.

Police confirmed that a teenager was arrested on Tuesday night on suspicion of arson and has since been released on bail pending further enquiries.

The spokesman for the diocese said he does not believe the attacks were motivated by sectarianism, adding: "This is being treated as a social and pastoral issue".

Detective Inspector McCambridge said police are investigating a possible link between the two incidents. He appealed for anyone who may have seen anything suspicious to contact them by calling 101 quoting reference number 984 24/04/17 and CC 1074 24/04/17.

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