Suspicious fire at Catholic church in Whitehead

damage in boiler room The boiler room was extensively damaged in the fire

Police say a fire at a Catholic church in Whitehead, County Antrim, is being treated as suspicious.

It was discovered in a boiler house at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Victoria Avenue at about 03:40 GMT on Sunday.

Police said that the boiler house had been damaged as a result of the fire. It is expected repairs could cost thousands of pounds.

They have appealed for information about the incident.

Parishoner Paddy Stewart said he was shocked that the church had been attacked.

"We were doing a lot of preparation of vigil mass and Christmas morning mass and the damage is such that the electrics and the heating system are out," he said.

"All the suppliers are closed until after Christmas, so we've had a lot of other parishioners and helpers from different churches in Whitehead, we are a close community, moving furniture from the church into the local primary school, and we'll have our mass there until we can get the church up and running again."

East Antrim DUP MLA David Hilditch said that he was disappointed that there had been such an incident.

"Up until now relations between the various sections of the community have been fairly good, I don't know what drove someone to do this but it cannot happen," he said.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Whitehead The church was built in 1909 in the County Antrim town

"You've the ongoing situation in regards to the union flag, generally the protests have been good natured and peaceful in Carrickfergus.

"We've had a couple of blips, that's well known and reported in the national media, but generally it's been peaceable and we want to see that happening."

Alliance East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson has condemned the attack.

"There can never be any justification for an attack on a place of worship. I know the local community will show their support and offer any help that is needed to repair any damage," he said.

"I condemn this attack in the strongest possible manner. It has achieved nothing except to strengthen the resolve of a united church community in Whitehead.

"With only two days until Christmas services, it will cause a lot of disruption and distress to the congregation."

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