BY Peter Diamond | July 20 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

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Priest forgives man given four year jail sentence for robbing him

A Rutherglen priest has said he forgives the man who was imprisoned for four years this week for robbing him—and added that he would like to visit the convict in prison.

Michael McTaggart, 41, pled guilty to robbing Fr Patrick Hennessy, the 73-year-old parish priest of St Columbkille’s Church in Rutherglen, on May 13.

Glasgow Sheriff Court heard on July 17 how Mr McTaggart grabbed the priest from the front door of the church house at St Columbkille’s and then pulled him back inside.

Mr McTaggart made off with collection envelopes containing cash donations.

Fr Hennessy, who is ­originally from Ireland, escaped from his house where he was helped by neighbours and Mr McTaggart fled the scene.

Mr McTaggart—who had been released early from a previous sentence at the time—admitted assaulting Fr Hennessy and robbing him of collection money.

Sheriff Martin Jones QC said: “You have pled guilty to an extremely serious offence, which must have been a terrifying experience.

“You used violence to extract money from him and pulled him into the house after you had obtained money and threatened him in the vestibule of the premises.”

The sheriff added: “The time has come to realise if you continue offending this way your sentences are going to get longer and longer.”

The court heard Fr Hennessy was ‘physically frail’ and helps people who come to his door when he can, usually by giving them food.

Procurator fiscal depute Louise MacNeil said Fr Hennessy was watching television at around 9.40pm when he heard somebody banging on the internal door and answered it.

She said: “The accused then seized him by the head and pulled him into the porch area.

“McTaggart closed the storm door and pushed Fr Hennessy in to a corner and stated ‘I want money.’

“Fr Hennessy gave him two pink collection envelopes he believed to contain £10 each and £5 from his pocket.”

Mr McTaggart continued to demand cash from the priest and told him, ‘I have a gun,’ then put his hand in his waistband. He then grabbed Fr Hennessy by the jumper and pulled him inside the house while he continued to ask for money.

Miss MacNeil added: “Fr Hennessy gave him a donation box from the chapel, sitting on the table.”

McTaggart prised the box open and took out all the pink envelopes—thought to have about £100 in them.

Meanwhile the terrified priest took the opportunity to run in to the street where neighbours helped him.

Police checked CCTV of the area and later found McTaggart on Rutherglen Main Street.

Defence lawyer Roddy Roberts said that his client is ‘appalled and ashamed.’

Following the sentencing on Tuesday at Glasgow Sheriff Court, Fr Hennessy, who was a missionary priest in Peru for 10 years, told the SCO: “That’s a heavy sentence for the fella and I feel quite sorry for him as I think he must have so many problems. I wasn’t expecting him to get anything like four years jail time, it’s obviously a huge mistake for the guy.

“I would now actually go and visit him in prison if it could be arranged because he obviously needs some help.”

Fr Hennessy said that the Society of St Vincent de Paul has stopped giving out donations from the parish house at St Columbkille’s, however the foodbank is still very active from the parish hall which is tended by volunteers of all faiths and none.

A spokesman for Motherwell Diocese said: “The safety of priests and religious living in parishes is paramount. In light of recent incidents, the diocese has offered support to all priests to review the security measures across all presbyteries and parish halls.”

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