Man jailed for ‘despicable’ desecration of graves

Mark Howell stole a religious statue from one grave to complete work in another cemetery

Mark Howell (39), Grenagh, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to charges of criminal damage and theft arising out of the Garda investigation into the desecration of two graves at St Mary’s Cemetery, Fern Hill, Clonakilty on August 8th, 2017. File photograph: Getty Images

Mark Howell (39), Grenagh, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to charges of criminal damage and theft arising out of the Garda investigation into the desecration of two graves at St Mary’s Cemetery, Fern Hill, Clonakilty on August 8th, 2017. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A man has been jailed for what a judge described as “an unbelievably mean and despicable crime” where he desecrated and damaged two graves when stealing a religious statue and stone shelf to use to complete a grave for another family elsewhere.

Mark Howell (39), Grenagh, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to charges of criminal damage and theft arising out of the Garda investigation into the desecration of two graves at St Mary’s Cemetery, Fern Hill, Clonakilty on August 8th, 2017.

Garda Peter Nolan told Cork Circuit Criminal Court how Howell, who was living at Railway Court, McCurtain Hill, Clonakilty at the time, was operating a business installing headstones and maintaining graves which he advertised as “West Cork Grave and Headstone Maintenance”.

He told how on the evening of August 9th 2017, a 72 year old widow went to St Mary’s Cemetery in Clonakilty to visit the grave of her husband, who had died in 2011, to discover the headstone had been damaged and a religious statue stolen.

“She visits the grave several times daily to pray and on the evening in question, she observed damage to the headstone in that a solid bronze statue of Our Lady which had been mounted and firmly attached to a stone shelf on the headstone had been broken from the headstone and stolen” Garda Nolan said.

The woman noticed the statue, which was valued at €430, had been replaced with a statue of Padre Pio taken from an adjacent grave belonging to her brother. She also noticed a stone shelf had been removed from the headstone of her brother’s deceased wife.

Gardaí were alerted and a team was appointed by Supt Ger O’Mahony to investigate the theft and damage to the headstones. The incident caused concern in the local community with families calling late at night to check on the graves of loved ones, amid fears of further desecration.

Technically examined

Garda Nolan said that both damaged headstones and graves were technically examined and fingerprinted and as a result of inquiries, gardaí located a grave in the cemetery at the Church of The Immaculate Conception in Enniskeane some 15kms from Clonakilty

The grave belonged to the family of an elderly man who had passed away in 2016 and they found an identical statue and identical shelf to those stolen from Clonakilty and established that the work had been carried out by Howell.

The statue and shelf were identified by the Clonakilty families and Gardaí arrested Howell on September 11th, 2017. When questioned, he made full admissions to the criminal damage and theft and offered his apologies to the families affected.

Garda Nolan said the 72 year old widow whose husband’s grave was desecrated felt that as though “she had lost her husband for a second time” because of the theft and cried daily for the first few weeks and felt unable to visit the grave by night as she had done before.

Her brother, whose wife’s grave was damaged, also used to attend the grave daily but both he and his adult children were deeply hurt by the damage done to the headstone. “They feel it’s a complete intrusion on their privacy and grief,” said Garda Nolan

Meanwhile the family from Enniskeane, where Howell used the stolen items, were “absolutely horrified to think that stolen items were brought to a graveyard on their behalf - they feel they have been conned and are hugely embarrassed by what happened,” he added.

Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin said Howell, who had 117 previous convictions including 57 for theft, was guilty of a particularly vile crime which had caused huge distress to three families who had suffered family bereavements.

“This was an unbelievably mean and despicable crime – it was on a level hard to imagine that anyone would go to a graveyard to damage headstones and not just damage them but damage them for profit by stealing from two graves and then using these items on another grave.”

He noted Howell had shown some level of remorse before he sentenced him to two years in prison for criminal damage and theft and suspended the final six months on condition that he keep the peace and be of good behaviour for a period of 12 months.