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Boys, aged 11 and 15, face court over allegedly damaging Magherafelt Catholic church and shouting abuse at priest

Pair bailed but told they cannot enter Co Londonderry town


A number of items were damaged in the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Magherafelt

A number of items were damaged in the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Magherafelt

A number of items were damaged in the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Magherafelt

Two schoolboys have been banned from entering a Co Londonderry town following incidents at a Catholic church.

The boys, aged 15 and 11 and who cannot be named due to their age, have been ordered not to enter Magherafelt as part of bail conditions imposed on them by a judge at Derry Magistrates’ Court.

The pair were arrested, along with a 13-year-old boy, following a series of incidents inside and outside the Church Of Our Lady Of Assumption in Magherafelt on Saturday.

The 13-year-old has already been bailed to appear before Magherafelt Youth Court on May 18.

A police officer told District Judge John Connolly that the offences were "aggravated by hostility".

He said Fr John Gates reported to police that he confronted the three youths who were attempting to pull a defibrillator from the wall of the parish centre inside the church grounds.

He added that Fr Gates, who was on his way to celebrate Mass, told them to leave the church grounds, but instead they shouted derogatory abuse at him.

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The officer said: "Fr Gates felt in fear and in danger due to their aggressive behaviour. He believed it to be a hate crime based on what they shouted at him and that they targeted him because of his Catholic faith. One of the youths then threw a lighter at the priest which missed him.”

He said the priest then received word from parishioners that damage had been caused inside the church.

"There was damage to the lock of the sacristy door, candles had been smashed and thrown around the church, a vase was smashed, a Bible and other holy books were thrown around and the microphone was also damaged. The cost of repairing the damage has been estimated at £1,000. Fr Gates identified the three youths to the police and police immediately recognised them."

Objecting to bail on the grounds of reoffending, the officer said one of the youths "has four cases this month alone" and added that much of the criminality which had occurred inside and outside the church last Saturday had been recorded on CCTV. He said, following their arrests, the youths had made "significant statements to the police”.

"The local police have spoken to them on numerous occasions and they say these children are completely out of control," he added.

A social worker told District Judge Connolly that staff at the children's home where the two boys before the court currently lived "fear it will be too much for them to handle the two boys together”. “Residency arrangements are currently being made for the two boys".

Despite the objection, the judge released the two boys on bail to appear before Dungannon Youth Court on May 17.

As part of their bail conditions, they were banned from entering within the 30mph zone around Magherafelt and were also ordered not to contact each other or Fr Gates.

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