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Arsonist leaves devil on altar in hate crime attack

PUBLISHED: 18:35 29 March 2018 | UPDATED: 18:35 29 March 2018

Father Anthony Nwankwo and Brian Lafferty with the icon the arsonist damaged. Picture: Keith Morris

Father Anthony Nwankwo and Brian Lafferty with the icon the arsonist damaged. Picture: Keith Morris

Archant

An arsonist has targeted a Great Yarmouth church and left a picture of the Devil on the holy altar as he committed his crime.

An arsonist lit several fires and left a satanic figure on the altar at St Mary's Catholic Church in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Keith MorrisAn arsonist lit several fires and left a satanic figure on the altar at St Mary's Catholic Church in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Keith Morris

A man lit numerous small fires in St Mary’s Catholic Church in Regent Road on Tuesday at around 11.30am before attempting to burn a sacred icon taken from the church altar.

In what has been described as a hate crime by police, a picture of the Devil was then left in the place of the icon on the altar.

The attack has been condemned by parish priest, Father Anthony Nwankwo, who pledged that such incidents would not stop the diocese leaving its churches open across the region as places of prayer and sanctuary.

Mr Nwankwo said: “I was shocked and saddened when I discovered what had happened. My immediate thought was to get some holy water and use it with prayer to nullify what the person had done.

An arsonist lit several fires and left a satanic figure on the altar at St Mary's Catholic Church in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Jacob MasseyAn arsonist lit several fires and left a satanic figure on the altar at St Mary's Catholic Church in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Jacob Massey

“If people do not like what we do here they can just stay away. Such an attack on our church can never succeed.

“We will not close the church, but to use the altar and sanctuary we need to go through a service to reconsecrate the area.”

Bishop of East Anglia, Alan Hopes, said the man is already forgiven.

He said: “I am very saddened by what has happened, especially in Holy Week which is the most important week in the church’s year.

An arsonist lit several fires and left a satanic figure on the altar at St Mary's Catholic Church in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Jacob MasseyAn arsonist lit several fires and left a satanic figure on the altar at St Mary's Catholic Church in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Jacob Massey

“I am hoping it is not a hate crime, but whoever did it needs to know that he is already forgiven because that is part of who we are as Christians, but we pray that this won’t happen again.”

Brian Lafferty, who has been a parishioner for 33 years and is on the parish council, said he was appalled.

He said: “I have never seen anything like it before and it is quite disturbing really; there is no room for it in today’s society.

If you want to celebrate like that and worship other gods there are other places you can go. Here, we worship the one God.

Investigating officer, PC Lewis Gilmore, said: “We are treating this very seriously and it is being investigated as a hate incident. We do have CCTV which is being examined as part of our enquiries.”

Anyone with information should contact PC Gilmore at Great Yarmouth Police Station on 101, or alternatively, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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