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Teenager arrested in connection with Catholic church arson attack is released on bail

PUBLISHED: 07:30 31 March 2018 | UPDATED: 07:30 31 March 2018

St Marys Catholic Church, Yarmouth has been the victim of an arson attack.

Picture: Nick Butcher

St Marys Catholic Church, Yarmouth has been the victim of an arson attack. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

A teenager arrested in connection with an arson attack at a Catholic church in Great Yarmouth has been released on bail.

St Marys Catholic Church, Yarmouth has been the victim of an arson attack.

Picture: Nick ButcherSt Marys Catholic Church, Yarmouth has been the victim of an arson attack. Picture: Nick Butcher

The 17-year-old was arrested on Thursday (March 29) and remained in custody until yesterday evening.

He was arrested after a man lit multiple fires inside St Mary’s Catholic Church on Tuesday (March 28) and left a satanic image at the alter.

It happened at around 11.30am and the incident - described by police as a hate crime - was caught on CCTV.

The footage shows a man entering the church before appearing to make an offensive hand gesture in the general direction of the camera and a crucifix on the wall.

Father Anthony by the fire damaged carpet inside St Marys Catholic Church, Yarmouth.  Picture: Nick ButcherFather Anthony by the fire damaged carpet inside St Marys Catholic Church, Yarmouth. Picture: Nick Butcher

The man can then be seen to walk down the centre aisle and attempts to light a newspaper from the front row.

The newspaper starts to emit smoke but does not fully catch and the man then returns to the back of the church and lights a table cloth with a candle.

Footage shows the man carrying the flaming cloth back down the aisle before throwing it in the direction of the altar.

The altar itself cannot be seen from the footage, however, a significant flash of light can be seen to brighten the church walls.

The devil which the arsonist left on the altar at St Mary's Catholic Church in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Brian LaffertyThe devil which the arsonist left on the altar at St Mary's Catholic Church in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Brian Lafferty

Parishioner of 33 years, Brian Lafferty, believes the flash could have been caused by the man throwing the church icon from the altar on to the flaming cloth.

The man can then be seen leaving the church, appearing to make another offensive hand gesture as he exits.

He attempted to burn a sacred icon he took off the altar and replaced it with a picture of the devil.

Parish priest, Father Anthony Nwankwo said a cleaner originally alerted him to the smoke, however, they thought it had been caused purely by small burn marks on the table at the back of the church.

St Marys Catholic Church, Yarmouth has been the victim of an arson attack.

Picture: Nick ButcherSt Marys Catholic Church, Yarmouth has been the victim of an arson attack. Picture: Nick Butcher

It was only later that afternoon that they saw the damage and desecration of the altar.

He 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.

“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.

“What we saw was very upsetting. This man is an enemy of the church. They do not like the worship of God and it is an attack on our religion.

“I assume his intention was to burn everything down.

“When Jesus was on the cross, he pleaded for forgiveness for those who committed atrocities against him, and I will pray for forgiveness for this man when I reconsecrate the altar.”

Bishop of East Anglia Alan Hopes said the person responsible was 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.

“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.”

Mr Lafferty, who is also 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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