Man jailed for wrecking church

CHRISTINE CUNNINGHAM A vandal who desecrated graves and caused thousands of pounds of damage to a mediaeval church which was the pride of the Norfolk village was yesterday jailed for nine months.

CHRISTINE CUNNINGHAM

A vandal who desecrated graves and caused thousands of pounds of damage to a mediaeval church which was the pride of the Norfolk village was yesterday jailed for nine months.

Ashley Marriott, 23, was said to have left a scene of total devastation after he smashed stained glass windows, damaged gravestones and knocked crosses off the altar at St Mary's Church, Great Plumstead.

After the mindless attack, villagers rallied round and repaired the damage costing more than £7,000, although if they had not done the repairs themselves Norwich Crown Court heard that it would have cost more than £20,000.

Marriott, of Westfield Road, Brundall, admitted criminal damage in July this year.

Sentencing him, Judge Peter Jacobs told him he had trashed the church which was the pride of the village. “In the early hours of July 7 you caused a terrible amount of damage. You trashed a number of gravestones, caused further damage to the outside of the church and then you went inside.

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“What the vicar saw was a scene of total devastation. You smashed some of the stained glass windows, removed a number of items in the church and threw them around. There was total chaos.”

He said villagers had rallied round and made repairs, but the cost would have been much more if they had not done so.

He added: “The message must go out that when courts are faced with people who have stolen from churches or caused substantial damage these people will go into custody. There will be no exceptions.”

The judge said that because of vandalism like this people were finding it more difficult to visit churches which had to be kept locked.

Lori Tucker, prosecuting, said the rector, the Rev Michael Kingston, was totally speechless when he saw the damage which had been caused by Marriott. A leaded window had been smashed and the inside of the church was totally trashed. Items had also been scattered over the church and the organ had also been damaged.

“It was a scene of complete devastation; 100 tiles had been removed from the lobby roof and the damage caused a great deal of distress.”

A fingerprint was found on the organ and blood on a windowsill and the DNA was linked to Marriott.

He was arrested but denied the charge, claiming that he had been at a party. However, he later admitted that he had been responsible for the attack.

Stephen Spence, mitigating, said Marriott was drunk at the time and that there may have been some sort of dispute earlier in the evening. Marriott had taken out his frustration on objects rather than people.

“This is very much out of character,” he said, adding that Marriott had physical and mental health problems and was of previous good character. He also said that the stained glass window which had been smashed was not priceless.

After the vandalism attack, an army of more than 40 people from the village dusted, cleaned and polished the inside of the church and money was raised to professionally restore and repair tiles to the porch roof and damaged pews.

Rev Kingston praised those who rallied round and said it was quite incredible how the community came together so quickly to make a triumph out of a tragedy.

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