A CHURCH destroyed by fire in a suspected vandal attack had been broken into several times in the run-up the blaze – including just hours before.
St Paul’s Catholic Church in Muirhouse – which closed in October despite protests from parishioners – was targeted three times in under a fortnight and police are understood to have visited the premises shortly before a fire gutted the building.
It has emerged that fire extinguishers located throughout the church had been removed from the premises and placed outside before the emergency services arrived. It is also understood that boxes of matches were found both inside and outside the church.
Detectives are now trying to trace a number of youths believed to have been loitering near the building less than an hour before the fire started at around 9.20pm.
Meanwhile, Councillor Cammy Day, who represents the area, said he had warned church authorities not risk making the building a target.
He said: “The community are furious with the church for closing it. And we specifically asked them not to board it up because we knew what would happen – but they boarded it up last week and now it has been pretty much burned to the ground.”
Roy Douglas, chairman of Muirhouse Salvesen Community Council, said residents had been devastated by news of the fire.
He said: “Many older people, particularly, are distraught at the loss of what was an iconic building in the community.
“Before it closed, it was not just used on Sundays, it was used by Muirhouse Youth Development Group for some of its activities and there was a men’s club operated there. The community was hoping it could become some sort of hub, but the church said it had to close.”
Archbishop Leo Cushley visited Muirhouse yesterday and assured the community of his thoughts and prayers.
He also thanked the emergency services for their professionalism in bringing the fire under control and said he was grateful nobody was hurt.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese said: “When a church falls into disuse the key priority of the Archdiocese is always to keep people safe and the best practice for doing that is to prevent entry into the building. Any suggestion that the Catholic Church brought this fire upon itself is verging on the hurtful.
“Keeping the building within community use has been part of the criteria applied by the Archdiocese to the sale of the church. These sad events mean everybody will have to re-assess what happens next”.
Inspector Alan Carson said: “This was an appalling attack on a religious building which, despite its closure, was still of importance to the local community in Muirhouse. It was a reckless act which could well have resulted in serious injury.”