Southwold church burglar faces jail

A burglar who broke into a historic north Suffolk church and caused �1,520 of damage was been warned by a judge that he faces a jail sentence.

Gary McGee pleaded guilty today to burgling St Edmund's Church in Southwold and taking �200 in cash.

After admitting the offence McGee, 22, of Park Road, Lowestoft, was told by judge David Cooper that he was minded to jail him as a deterrent to anyone considering burgling the region's churches.

And as McGee stood in the dock of Lowestoft Magistrates' Court to admit September 8's burglary the court heard that the vicar of St Edmund's Rev Simon Pitcher had asked for the burglar to paint and decorate St Edmund's Hall as a form of restorative justice.

The court heard McGee had broken into the 15th century church on Bartholomew's Green after he had an argument with his girlfriend over losing their home over debts.

Corinne Gook-Hurren, prosecuting, said after drinking McGee broke a church window, climbed through it and then forced open a cabinet to take �200 in cash from envelopes and a cash box.

The money was from the takings of the church shop.

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McGee was arrested after his fingerprints were found on the cash box and he confessed immediately to police.

The court heard McGee, who had been living in Southwold and worked at a council holiday park at time of the burglary, had broken into the church after an argument with his now ex-girlfriend over spiralling debts and the possible loss of their home.

Ross Burrows, mitigating, said: 'In a fit of pique, in a complete loss of control he drank two and half litres of cider.'

After drinking McGee then burgled the church as it was one of the first buildings he came across.

Mr Burrows said his client broke into the church even though he had made donations to it in the past and was a 'member of society in that area'.

McGee was also appalled by his 'actions'.

Mr Burrows added: 'He is not a man who is going to repeat something of this nature.'

In a letter to the court Mr Pitcher, rural dean of Halesworth and Beccles deaneries and team rector of Southwold and Walberswick, said that if McGee made a sincere apology then he would like to see him paint and decorate St Edmund's Hall, which is used by the community, as some form of restitution.

The letter said: 'The whole community of Southwold will benefit from the redecoration of these rooms.'

But judge Cooper said that in order to deter other church burglars he was 'minded' to jail McGee when he appears for sentence on November 22.

Judge Cooper said: 'All churches are vulnerable buildings. People who burgle churches, in my mind, need to go to prison.

'Ancient churches are being broken into and irreparable damage is being done. It is a most dismal crime.

'You should expect a custodial sentence. There are too many churches being burgled, and I think the message should go out.'

From January 2008 to November 2010 there was an average of 4.6 crimes a week relating to Suffolk churches while in Norfolk there were 4.3 crimes on average a week.

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