Two drug and alcohol addicts who smashed their way into a Londonderry church through a 19th century stained glass window have been jailed.
Harry Duffy and James Anthony Kennedy were sentenced to two years and eight months at Derry Crown Court.
During a search of the church on September 12, 2017, police officers found evidence of human excrement.
One of the men had defecated inside the church’s boiler room, and excrement was smeared on the church organ and on pages which had been ripped from a Bible.
Duffy (25), from Elmwood Terrace, and Kennedy (24), from Glenside Park, had previously clear records. They admitted burglary and stealing items including a crystal decanter, a surplice and a set of reader’s robes. None of the stolen items were recovered.
They also admitted damaging furnishings and fittings in the church, including the organ.
In total they caused an estimated £75,000 worth of damage inside and outside the church building, for which the diocesan insurers paid £58,500.
Jailing both men, who have mental health disorders, Judge Philip Babington said their behaviour was “quite disgraceful, aggravated as it was by taking place at and within a place of worship”.
He added: “Some of the damage caused was both shocking and disgusting.”
The court was told that the burglary was reported to police by a parishioner.
When arrested Duffy admitted being in the church and defecating inside the boiler room. He apologised for what he had done.
Judge Babington said Duffy functioned intellectually at a level equivalent to individuals with a severe learning difficulty and he had significant mental health difficulties, some of which might be linked to a fall he had at the age of 11.
Judge Babington said Kennedy had been consuming alcohol and drugs since the age of 15.
The judge said there was no doubt in his mind that the disinhibiting effects of alcohol and drugs caused both Kennedy and Duffy to behave in the way they did.
Archdeacon Robert Miller, Rector of the Christ Church, Culmore, Muff and St Peter’s (CCCMSP) group of parishes, and Rev Katie McAteer, pastoral director of CCCMSP group of parishes, welcomed the sentences.
“We are thankful that this matter has now been dealt with by the courts and grateful to Judge Philip Babington for the sensitive manner in which he has dealt with what has — for our parishioners — been a most distressing case,” they said. “It is of some comfort to us to learn that, in Judge Babington’s words, there was no ‘religious or sectarian aspect to this offending’.
“Indeed, since the break-in we in Christ Church have been blessed and encouraged by the sympathy and support shown by well-wishers from right across the community, most notably by our neighbours in St Eugene’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.”