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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Coffin desecrater avoids jail
Gamble caused 5,000 of damage to the church
Gamble caused 5,000 of damage to the church
A 19-year-old student who was high on drugs when he desecrated a pensioner's coffin as it lay in church has been given a two-year suspended jail sentence.

Barry Gamble broke into St Agnes's Catholic church on the Andersonstown Road in Belfast in September 2002 and threw Maureen Melly's coffin to the ground.

He also tore crosses from the casket and the confessional box, broke a window and smeared excrement around the Sacristy, Belfast Crown Court was told on Monday.

The funeral of 85-year-old Mrs Melly, from Belleek in County Fermanagh, was due to be held the next day.

However, her family were forced to move it to nearby St Michael's church in Finaghy.

Gamble, from Brooke Drive in west Belfast, caused 5,000 of damage to the church.

It simply underscores the evil that drugs wreak in our community at a time when people are calling for it to be down-graded and reclassified
Judge Marrinan

A prosecution lawyer told the court that the smearing of excrement around the Sacristy had outraged and appalled the community.

However, she told Judge Marrinan no-one was arrested over the incident for 12 months until police were able to match Gamble's fingerprints in relation to another incident.

A defence lawyer said Gamble had been out with friends that night and had taken "what he believed" to be an ecstasy tablet, adding that from then "his recollection is very clouded".

He told the court that "it was the first time and the last time" Gamble had taken any illicit substances, adding that he was "extremely apologetic for his behaviour".

When he was eventually arrested and questioned about the attack on the church, Gamble made a "clean breast" of what he had done, said the lawyer.

He pleaded guilty to criminal damage to the church and to possession of ecstasy.

Suspending his two-year jail term for two years, Judge Marrinan told him his actions "must have been very disturbing" for Mrs Melly's family and added that he was satisfied it had been "totally out of character" for him.

"It simply underscores the evil that drugs wreak in our community at a time when people are calling for it to be down-graded and reclassified," he said.





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