Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Outrage at attack on church as police label it a hate crime

The congregation of a Newry church is said to be extremely upset at an attack by vandals who smashed a stained glass window, which has just recently been repaired.

It is the second time in a year that the First Presbyterian Church (Non Subscribing) at John Mitchel Place on Hill Street has been targeted by vandals with the repairs to the previous damage having been completed just two weeks ago.

The incident happened sometime overnight on Wednesday March 27th/Thursday March 28th and police say they are treating it as a hate crime.

The Minister, Rev. Norman Hutton, says this latest attack is “extremely upsetting” for the congregation and local community.

“The church is the longest standing and oldest Presbyterian congregation in Newry.  We haven’t even got the final bill for the initial repairs which were just completed around a fortnight ago.

“The church has undergone, over the last three or four years, a complete refurbishment on the outside and it’s in prestige condition at this present time.  But it’s very upsetting for the people in the area who were delighted to see the church put back to its former glory,” Rev Hutton added.

Ulster Unionist Party Councillor David Taylor described it as a “despicable and evil act”.

“It is difficult to comprehend the mindset of someone who would desecrate any place of worship and there is understandable outrage within the local community that this incident has occurred,” he said.

“It is all the more significant given that this window was only repaired a matter of weeks ago following damage caused to it in a previous incident which occurred last year.  

Vandals smashed a stained glass window, which was just recently repaired in the First Presbyterian Church (Non Subscribing) on Hill Street, Newry. 

“This will no doubt cause great hurt to the congregation and it is extremely regrettable that they will have to incur further cost to repair the damage which has been caused to their church building.  It is vital that the perpetrators of this sickening act are brought to justice and as such, I would appeal to anyone with information on the attack to report it to the Police immediately,” he added.

Newry and Armagh MP Mickey Brady says the entire community is appalled at the hate attack.

Condemning those responsible, he said: “It is a despicable act of vandalism and hate.  It has deeply angered and offended the entire community.  I appeal to all to stand up against these criminals, assist the police in their inquiries and ensure those behind this hate outrage are brought to justice”.

Newry SDLP Councillors Gary Stokes and Michael Savage met with members of the church congregation on Friday to offer their solidarity.  Speaking afterwards Councillor Stokes said those who carried out the attack “are criminals and cowards”.

“The only possible motivation for attacking a place of worship is hatred and it has to be rooted out of our communities,” he said.

His colleague Councillor Savage added: “We met with David Hanna and Gordon Cunningham of the congregation to show our solidarity and to convey the message that this act was not done in our name.  There is no place for despicable attacks of a hate nature in the city we want to represent and we passed on a message of support to the congregation from the Nationalist community of Newry.

“This is one of the most beautiful historic buildings in our city and a place of worship and this latest attack is sickening and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”

Independent candidate in the forthcoming Council elections, Gavin Malone, says he is “outraged” at the incident.

He said: “These actions are no reflection or representation what so ever on the diverse and inclusive city we live in.  I would ask the culprits to stop causing damage like this to their own community.  I appeal to anyone with information to come forward and parents to have a word with their children.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Newry Maritime Association described the attack as “a mindless act of vandalism which is condemned by all right-minded people”.

“Just last year we were involved in a fundraiser along with Mickey Mallon and Tony Smith to raise money to help defray the repair bill for previous damage.  The perpetrators of this criminality directed against a place of worship are to be unreservedly condemned and should hang their heads in shame,” the spokesperson said.

Appealing for information on the crime, a spokesperson for the PSNI Newry and Mourne said: “Sometime on the evening of Wednesday 27/03/19 some senseless person caused significant damage to a window of the church in a targeted attack. This window has only recently been repaired with considerable efforts of the church and for any place of worship to be attacked is not just an insult to the whole community of Newry but a deplorable hate crime that has no place in our society.

“Our enquiries are at an early stage and if you have any information that could assist our investigation or if you were in the area last evening and noticed any suspicious activity please get in touch with us by dialing 101 and using the reference number 408 of 28/03/19. Alternatively you can call Crimestoppers with any information on crime anonymously on 0800 555 111.”