Man is given community service for church break-in

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A man who broke into a church hall and damaged a safe escaped jail on Tuesday after he agreed to complete 120 hours of community service.

At Antrim Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan told 42-year-old Derek Alan Kirk “custody has been tried, I think it’s time to try something else.”

Commenting that Kirk had already served jail sentences for other burglaries committed around the same time, the judge told the father-of-five “in the particular circumstances of this offence where it’s an offence against the community in the sense of the community of people who attend the gospel hall, I will require you to do 120 hours of community service.”

At an earlier hearing Kirk, with an address at a hostel on the Ormeau Road in Belfast, pleaded guilty to a single count of burglary with intent to steal at Harryville Gospel Hall in Ballymena in October 2015.

While Kirk broke into the hall on October 17, it was not discovered for two days when the hall was used again.

Kirk had used a screwdriver to break into a safe but unbeknownst to the would-be thief, it was used to store documents and held nothing of monetary value but cost £178 to fix the damage he caused.

He was snared because he left the screwdriver behind and police uncovered his fingerprints on it.

In court on Tuesday defence solicitor Ciaran Toner said while Kirk had a relevant record for burglary, they were committed in the throes of his addiction to prescription medication, adding that since his release from prison he has taken steps to address his addiction problems.

“He is slowly piecing his life back together again,” said the lawyer adding that he had been duly engaging and co-operating with probation since his release.

Previously Judge Marrinan had adjourned passing sentence to allow Kirk time to pay restitution back to the church but Mr Toner told the court “unfortunately he has only managed to get £50 together” as he is on benefits of £40 per week.

As well as the CSO, Judge Marrinan imposed a compensation order of £100 telling Kirk that a burglary “of something as sacred as a church does raise the sensitivities as people would regard it as a particular heinous thug to do” but he was mindful of the fact that he damaged a safe “rather than an object that might be considered sacred.”

As Kirk stood in the dock with his head bowed, Judge Marrinan told him: “Nevertheless it was a gross invasion of the dignity of the gospel hall and in most circumstances I would not hesitate to impose immediate custody but I think you are at a critical point in your life.”