A 24-year-old Co Down man behind what was initially thought to be a sectarian attack on a Catholic church nearly two years ago has been freed with three years probation.
Newry Crown Court was told that Kieran Clarke was delusional and drunk when he first vented his anger on the priest’s car before breaking into Our Lady of the Angels Church in Kilkeel’s Greencastle Street, smashing and vandalising crosses, statues, pews and windows.
Clarke, from Rooney Park in the town, admitted two charges of criminal damage of over £16,000 on the VW Passat of Fr Michael Eugene Murray and his church on July 10 2014.
At the time the attack was condemned by senior Co Down Orangeman Drew Nelson as “shameful and sinful”.
However on Thursday Judge Kevin Finnegan QC said the attack was triggered by alcohol and stemmed from Clarke’s long standing mental problems and issues with the status of organised religion.
He added there was no suspicion that what occurred in someway reflected on Fr Murray’s behaviour, and that he was a totally innocent victim.
Clarke had a history of mental difficulties, and the judge said he was satisfied his apologies and remorse were genuine, and given his guilty pleas, previous good character and other issues, it would be amiss of him to impose an immediate custodial sentence.
However, he warned that failure to undergo any treatment programmes, including possible restorative work with the church, could see him jailed.