July 17, 2008

Sacred Heart church treasures destroyed in arson

►John Ngarimu Rattray: burglary and arson

Items of immense sentimental and religious value were destroyed in a fire deliberately lit in a church by John Ngarimu Rattray who admitted the arson charge today.

After four charges were withdrawn, 43-year-old Rattray pleaded guilty to five charges of burglary and three of arson in the Christchurch District Court.

Defence counsel Elizabeth Bulger said two charges of setting mantraps, one of being unlawfully in a yard, and one of resisting arrest were to be dropped.

Rattray did more than $400,000 worth of damage with his offending. Judge John Bisphan remanded him for a crown sentencing session on October 3.

No application was made for bail, but pre-sentence and reparation reports will be prepared. Miss Bulger said it may not be realistic to seek reparation from the unemployed man, but suggested the report be prepared anyway.

About April 21 Rattray broke into St Albans Cricket Clubrooms in Hagley Oval where he stole some beer and had a shower and left the water running when he left the building.

On April 26 the Old Boys Cricket pavilion was entered by smashing a window. Rattray stole money from the till, then opened a valve on a 9kg gas cylinder venting potentially explosive LPG into the changing room but it failed to ignite.

Also on April 26 he returned to the St Albans Cricket Clubrooms where he smashed a trophy cabinet and threw the trophies onto the floor. He ripped a Silver Fern pocket off a blazer and took it.

He then placed a pile of paper on the elements of the stove in the kitchen and turned them on. He placed a fire extinguisher in the oven and turned it on. He lit two curtains on his way downstairs and then knocked a hole in a door and set it on fire. The fires on the curtains and the door went out.

He placed an aerosol can of caustic oven cleaner on a barbecue in the main changing rooms and turned it on.

He set fire to a couch and an armchair in another room which burned through to a room containing a house-lot of furniture.

The damage was estimated to be in excess of $200,000.

Early in the morning on April 29, Rattray went into the Sacred Heart Parish Hall in Spencer Street, Addington, and stole tea towels, cleaning products, and food.

While in the men’s toilets he smashed a large mirror, then he set fire to combustible items in the kitchen area.

He took a broom with him and went to the Sacred Heart Parish Church where he broke off a statue and threw it away. He went to the rear of the building and used the broom to break a window.

He took a religious ornament, robe and church documents and broke more ornaments.

He then set fire to religious items and assorted papers in the church. He set another fire in a cupboard, then ran off when he heard the fire brigade arriving to put the fires out in the hall. It was some time later they realised the church was burning as well and put that fire out. One third of the hall was destroyed, and there was carpet and floor damage, and numerous treasures of sentimental and religious value destroyed in the church.

When Rattray was found by the police nearby and had the stolen possessions on him.

The value of the religious items he destroyed cannot be assessed.