A Christian Church attacked every two weeks in 2016
Publication Date: 2017-01-20
Last year saw at least 25 acts of vandalism and theft on Christian churches in Scotland
By Daniel Harkins and Ian Dunn
Police have stressed their commitment to protecting places of worship after an SCO investigation found a Christian church was attacked every two weeks on average in Scotland last year.
There were at least 25 criminal acts inflicted on churches and reported by media in 2016. Break-ins, thefts, vandalism and in one case Satanic graffiti, were among the attacks. Christmas and Easter displays were desecrated and some churches were targeted multiple times.
The Catholic Church has now said they would welcome an opportunity to discuss with police how crimes on churches are recorded and processed.
The statistics were compiled by the SCO through combing media reports after a Freedom of Information request to Police Scotland for a full number of criminal attacks on churches in Scotland was rejected as too costly.
However, Police Scotland stressed that churches are targeted by criminals for a variety of reasons and that the crimes are not necessarily linked to the religious nature of the buildings. Theft of metal from roofs—which can be sold on by criminals—is a common feature of church break-ins, and showed up in the 2016 statistics.
Tens of thousands of pounds of damage has been caused in the attacks, with historical churches and 19th century windows amongst the property wrecked.
Money stolen during break-ins included funds for parish activities and donations for missionaries in Africa. Lead was stolen from the roof of St Paul’s Church of Scotland in Milngavie for the fifth time in as many years in August, and Wishaw Old Parish Church racked up £6,000 in damages after the church was targeted twice in two months.
Catholic churches targeted included St Joseph’s in Greenock, where a man was caught on CCTV in June breaking into the church grounds and stealing a patio heater. In August, a small amount of funds intended for missionaries was stolen from St Peter and St Paul church in Dundee. St John’s church in Barrhead was targeted twice in two days, with thieves stealing a small amount of money.
In an effort to aid police, the church posted CCTV footage of two hooded figures trying to pry open the church door. Also attacked was St Jude and St John Ogilvie in Barlanark, with 15 windows at the church smashed in a single night. In March, St Mary’s Church in Cleland had what police described as a ‘satanic emblem’—a five-pointed star—drawn on the outside walls.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said it ‘is extremely disappointing to see Christian churches being targeted in this way,’ adding that ‘the sectarian aspect of some attacks is particularly worrying.’
“Hopefully Police Scotland will compile discrete statistics which will allow detailed analysis of the problem and a focused response,” he added. “The Church would welcome the opportunity to discuss how these crimes are recorded and processed in future.”
Chief Inspector Alistair Muir of Police Scotland said it was important we do not get caught up in a culture of fear. The isolated nature of many churches, and the potential value of lead roofs and religious items inside churches, can make them a target for criminals regardless of any religious motivation, he said.
Police have met with the Catholic Church’s communications officer and with Fr Tom Boyle, formerly of the Bishops Conference, to discuss the issue, he said, and have handed
out leaflets on securing church buildings, with advice to consider CCTV, and security lights, and to remove from church property anything that can be used to access a roof or transport metal.
“Police Scotland is committed to keeping people safe, across all of our communities,” superintendent Davie Duncan of Police Scotland’s Safer Communities said. “We firmly believe that everyone has the right to live
their life in safety and without fear and we are committed to working towards a safer, stronger and more inclusive society. We continue to work together with all communities including Faith groups to ensure there is no place for any form of prejudice, intolerance or behaviour, including the targeting of places of worship, all of which can seek to cause division or damage the fabric of our diverse and cohesive society.”
Mgr Ken McCaffrey’s parish of St Peter and St Paul was broken into last year and a small amount of money stolen. He said the likely culprits, who were never caught, were young people, probably drug addicts. He stressed though that the parish doesn’t feel unsafe, and that police in Dundee patrol the area regularly. “If anything I feel we probably are more safe than other buildings,” he said.
– Additional reporting by Shannon McGurin and Amanda Connelly
—This story ran in full in the January 20 edition print of the SCO, available in parishes.
— PHOTO: NICO BEARD/UNSPLASH.COM