Minister says loss of PSNI station linked to vandalism at his church
A minister has told of his horror after his church was vandalised again - as he questioned whether the rise in anti-social behaviour was linked to the closure of the town's PSNI station.
A large section of the Ballyclare Free Presbyterian church hall’s wooden wall was ripped out in the latest attack on the property by youths between Sunday, August 18 and Friday, August 23.
According to Rev Noel Hughes, vandalism has been going on at the church over the last two years.
Windows were smashed last Christmas — costing £300 to repair.
He explained that youths have been congregating in a derelict outbuilding adjacent to the church on the Doagh Road, causing damage to local properties and lighting fires.
Vandalism to the church includes breaking a security light, damaging a side door into the church, breaking a lock, throwing stones on the roof, smashing church windows on three occasions and, now, tearing the hole in the church hall.
In 2016 it was announced that Ballyclare police station was to be sold off and Rev Hughes said there is a “general perception” that its closure has had a knock-on effect in the rise of anti-social behaviour.
“If that’s the message that’s being given out to people in the town it automatically evaporates confidence and makes people feel less secure,” he said.
“The question needs to be asked: is there a connection between the rise of anti-social behaviour, the closure of the police station and the removal of community-based officers?”
While the smashed windows cost £300 to replace in December, the church has benefited from the number of tradesmen in its congregation who have been able to repair most of the damage.
However, much of the vandalism has not been repaired as Rev Hughes believes it will be targeted again in the future unless the anti-social behaviour problem is sorted.
“I think the authorities need to take this problem in hand and address the issue,” he continued.
“The neighbouring property has a boiler house and they broke the roof of that, which has asbestos in it so there’s a health issue there.
“They need to address this problem before we do any proper repairs that would cost a significant amount of money, otherwise they will just come back and wreck it again.”
Rev Hughes confronted the youths two weeks ago, warning them that their behaviour could get them into trouble, but he feels his words fell on deaf ears.
Superintendent Sue-Ann Steen said: “There can be no excuse for causing damage to a place of worship. Police continue to work with the local community representatives, statutory and partner agencies in an effort to combat incidents of anti-social behaviour and criminal damage and will continue to do so.
“Dedicated local policing team officers and a neighbourhood policing team patrol Ballyclare in line with other priorities.
“Neighbourhood officers work alongside community bodies such as Ballyclare street pastors, community safety wardens and the local community to address local and community issues and concerns. We encourage the reporting of incidents of anti-social behaviour and any other issues so that we can address these and keep the community safe.”