A judge highlighted how crime was leading to more Norfolk churches closing their doors to visitors after he jailed a man who burgled a place of worship.

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Zak Burrell, 23, entered St Mary’s Church, Burgh-next-Aylsham, with two youths and another man and broke into the vestry of the church and stole items including an amplifier which was valued at £200 to £300, Norwich Crown Court heard.

The two youths aged 15 and 16 later returned to the church on their own and stole other items including a cashbox and a brass plate.

Robert Warner, prosecuting, said the break-in was discovered by a churchwarden who was alerted after seeing mud on top of the vestry partition and found the items missing.

Burrell was arrested after his fingerprint was found on a vase and a blood-stained tissue with his DNA.

He said that as well candles being lit and a small fire started someone had also urinated just outside the main entrance of the church.

Mr Warner said that some items were recovered but the amplifier was never found.

Mr Warner said that as a result of the burglary the church, which used to be open 24 hours a day for visitors, was now only open for services.

The court heard the two youths had been dealt with by a youth court.Burrell, of Bluebell Road, North Walsham, was convicted of burglary and failing to surrender to custody and was jailed for 11 months.

Sentencing him, Judge Peter Jacobs told him that although this was not the most serious offence of its kind, the break-in had an effect on the local community.

He said as well as forcing more churches to close their doors and remain locked apart from when they were open for services, it meant that the insurance went up to high levels.

“No church can afford to lose any property these days,” he said. He said that many churches were cash- strapped and equipment was bought using money raised from the congregation.

Judge Jacobs said it also meant that people who wanted to visit a church to find some quiet solace were no longer able to do so.

Michael Clare, for Burrell, said that they had only gone into the church to drink and play music.

He said that Burrell had been into the unlocked church on several previous occasions and he had climbed into the vestry to turn the lights on, and admitted that they had played music through the amplifier in the church.

He said that he had then left the church with the others. They had taken the amplifier and an extension cable but the two youths had then returned without his knowledge to take the cash and other items of value.

He said: “He was only going there to drink and listen to music.”

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