Yarmouth church is victim of arson and hate crime attack

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Yarmouth church is victim of arson and hate crime attack

A Great Yarmouth church has been the victim of an arson attack and shocking religious hate crime with a picture of a devil left on its holy altar.

St Mary's Catholic Church in Regent Road suffered the desecration on Tuesday March 27 when a man walked into the open church, lit a couple of small fires, including attempting to burn a sacred icon taken off the church's altar. As well as this a picture of a satanic figure was left in the icon's place on the holy altar.

The incident has been reported to Norfolk Police who are investigating and appealing for anyone with information to come forward.

The attack has been condemned by Parish Priest Fr Anthony Nwankwo and by the Bishop of East Anglia, Rt Rev Alan Hopes, who pledged that the incident would not stop the Diocese leaving its churches across the region open as places of prayer and sanctuary.

Fr Anthony said: "I was shocked and saddened when I discovered what had happened. When I looked at the altar I saw this picture of something satanic. My immediate thought was to get some holy water and use it with prayer to nullify what the person had done.

"It is a clear attack on the church and our religion which is not acceptable. If people do not like what we do here they can just stay away. Such an attack on our church can never succeed.

"Our parishioners are shocked and sad about what has happened but I was very encouraged by the number of people who came to Mass this morning in support.

"Our church and sanctuary has been desecrated. When I celebrated Mass this morning I did not use the altar or sanctuary, because I felt the altar has been desecrated.

"Something similar happened four months ago when someone came into the church and left a satanic picture at the foot of a cross we have at the back of the church. Two weeks ago someone came in and stole a microphone we use on the altar.

"We will not close the church but to use the altar and sanctuary we need to go through a service to reconsecrate the area. As part of that we will also ask for forgiveness for the person who did this," said Fr Anthony

Brian Lafferty, who has been a parishioner for 33 years and is on the parish council, said he was appalled: "I have never seen anything like it before and it is quite disturbing really, especially in this day and age. I was totally shocked and disgusted when I saw it and there is no room for it in today's society.

"If you want to celebrate like that and worship other gods there are other places you can go. Here, we worship the one God.

"The Police told me that they regard it as a really serious crime because of both the arson and the religious hatred element to it.

"We have clear CCTV pictures of the man who did this, which we have given to the Police and the church is alarmed. But we will be open for business as soon as possible after Fr Anthony has re-blessed the church this morning."

Bishop Alan Hopes said: "I am very saddened by what has happened, especially in Holy Week which is the most important week in the church's year. I am hoping it is not a hate crime, but whoever did it needs to know that he is already forgiven because that is part of who we are as Christians, but we pray that this won't happen again.

"Whatever happens, our churches should remain open because they are places where people can find sanctuary and God's presence, somewhere to pray and bring their concerns to God."

Investigating officer PC Lewis Gilmore, said: "We are treating this very seriously and this is being investigated as a hate incident. I would appeal to anyone who may have information concerning the incident or the person responsible to come forward. We do have CCTV which is being examined as part of our enquiries."

Anyone with information should contact PC Gilmore at Great Yarmouth Police Station on 101 or alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Pictured above are Fr Anthony and Brian Lafferty with the damaged icon in front of the desecrated altar and sanctuary (below) at St Mary's in Great Yarmouth. Pictures by Keith Morris.