More than 600 incidents of criminal damage at places of worship in North

Recent incidents include an arson attack on St Saviour’s church in Craigavon, Co Armagh

Care NI is calling on the Executive to provide funding for CCTV, fencing and lighting for places of worship. Photograph: Getty

Care NI is calling on the Executive to provide funding for CCTV, fencing and lighting for places of worship. Photograph: Getty

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More than 600 incidents of criminal damage have been recorded at places of worship in the North in the past five years, according to a Christian charity.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) figures obtained following a Freedom of Information request by Christian Action Research and Education (Care) NI showed there have been 601 such attacks between 2014/15 and 2018/19.

The figures include all crimes recorded as criminal damage to religious buildings, churchyards or cemeteries.

Recent incidents, the charity said, include an arson attack on St Saviour’s church in Craigavon, Co Armagh in July, and damage to the interior and a smashed window at Brantry parish church in Co Tyrone in April.

However, the figures also showed that the number of incidents has fallen each year, from 136 in 2014/15 to 104 in 2018/19.

Almost a third of incidents took place in Belfast, where 173 such crimes were recorded in the five-year period.

Revd Aaron McAlister, the rector of Derriaghy parish church in Co Antrim, said his church was broken into and vandalised in November, causing “significant damage” to the vestry and sanctuary.

“The individuals concerned managed to get in behind our organ while searching for valuables but fortunately there was nothing to take.

“It left many of my parishioners deeply upset. An attack on a place of worship is an attack on the community that worships there.

“Rather than getting on with serving our community, we have had to spend valuable hours repairing the damage caused,” he said.

The charity is calling on the Northern Executive to provide funding for security measures such as CCTV, fencing and lighting for places of worship similar to schemes available in England, Scotland and Wales.

“Across Northern Ireland, churches and other places of worship have been attacked with alarming regularity and it makes sense, therefore, to consider introducing a security fund,” said Care NI policy officer, Mark Baillie.

“More than 600 attacks in the last five years is a reminder that places of worship, which should be safe spaces for worshippers and congregants, are all too often targeted by vandalism and violence.

“The gradual easing of lockdown will surely only increase the opportunity and risk of further attacks and therefore it’s important MLAs take action,” he said.

Revd McAlister said he would support additional government measures to protect places of worship. “Action to prevent attacks happening to other faith communities would be hugely welcome,” he said.

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