Addict ‘stole charity box’ from Derry church

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A man broke into a church and raided charity boxes to pay off a drugs debt, the High Court heard yesterday.

Bernard Cooke kicked in a door to the prayer room at St Brigid’s Church in Derry and stole a collection of up to £300, prosecutors said.

He is also to be questioned about other similar offences in the city, including the theft of wine and damage to a parochial house and chapel.

Cooke, 20, is charged with burgling St Brigid’s on Racecourse Road on November 29 last year.

Refusing bail, a judge described it as a “mean and nasty” crime.

A church sacristan had discovered the upstairs oratory broken into and charity boxes emptied.

CCTV recordings was used to identify and arrest Cooke, the court heard.

Prosecution barrister Conor Maguire said the accused was detained in January and admitted going into the church after being shown the footage.

Cooke told police he first made an unsuccessful attempt to steal money from a box in the hallway, it was claimed.

“He said he then went to the upper floor into the prayer room and said he kicked in the door and proceeded to steal the money from the charity boxes,” Mr Maguire added.

“He said he didn’t recall how many boxes were emptied but he stated that he was able to use the money to pay off a debt of between £200 and £300.”

Mr Maguire confirmed Cooke is to be interviewed about the other break-ins.

Defence lawyer Gordon Talbot told the court his client intends to enter a plea to the current charge.

“We are dealing here with a young man who has been taking far too much cannabis in the last 18 months to two years,” he said.

Mr Talbot claimed, however, that Cooke had been desperate to get money because his girlfriend was expecting a child.

But questioning this explanation, Mr Justice Horner pointed out: “He told police he used the money to pay off a drugs debt.”

The judge refused bail due to the risk of any further crimes being committed.

He added: “This was a particularly mean and nasty offence, to steal from the church’s charity boxes, especially when it seems to have been to fuel an addiction to cannabis.”