Thieves have broken into a new church hall in Drumbeg the very day that it was completed.
The £600,000 building for the parish church of St Patrick’s was handed to the vicar on Tuesday morning, and the break-in happened that night.
It was the first new church hall for 125 years at the church, which is famous for its archway and path leading up to the entrance, and is located close to Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park on the Lisburn edge of southern Belfast.
The Rev Willie Nixon said that it was a calculated robbery, because the criminals first broke into an electrics room via an external door, seemingly to disable the alarm.
“While they were in there they decided they would steal the boiler,” he told the News Letter.
They then used a drill to get into the main hall, where they smashed a unit to get access to a valuable industrial dishwasher that they stole.
The total damage and loss has been estimated at around £8,000.
Rev Nixon even wonders if the thieves knew that keys were handed over on Tuesday, which was widely known and had been announced at church.
“The police say that they know when the keys have been handed over that there are white goods to take.”
He described the incident, which happened sometime after the hall was closed up at 10.30pm after an Easter vestry meeting, as “horrible”.
“I find it so annoying. There was a lot of effort and fundraising and generosity from the church parishioners and the community, which made the project possible.”
He added: “Thank goodness the insuance was in place from midday.”
The multi-purpose hall was built as a church and community building, and is used by a fitness class, the WI and a gardening club among others.
Rev Nixon said: “These people are to be pitied more than scorned if that is how they make their living.
“But as Christians we say in the Lord’s prayer: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’.”
Rev Nixon, who was speaking to this newspaper by phone as he headed into an engagement at Hydebank Prison, said: “Forgiveness has to lie at the heart of our response.”
The theft of the boiler was carried out by someone who “knew what they doing. They closed off pipework, so that oil did not run out over the floor”.
The hall, which was built on the far side of the graveyard, took almost a year to complete.
Police confirmed they are investigating the burglary. Appealing for information, a PSNI spokesperson said they had received a report that sometime between 5.30pm on Tuesday and 9.30am on Wednesday, entry was gained and a burner and dishwasher stolen.