'Despicable' headstone maintenance worker jailed for stealing items from cemetery plots
A headstone maintenance contractor has been jailed for taking items from graves and then using them on other plots he had been hired to upgrade.
Mark Howell (39) was imprisoned for 18 months for what Cork Circuit Criminal Court's Judge Sean O Donnabháin described as "an unbelievable, mean and despicable" offence.
Howell, of McCurtain Hill, Clonakilty, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to criminal damage and theft at St Mary's Cemetery, Clonakilty, on August 9, 2017.
The defendant worked as a contractor for the maintenance and upgrading of cemetery plots.
However, the court heard he removed a bronze funerary statue of the Virgin Mary from one headstone as well as a decorative stone shelf from another at St Mary's.
These were then used as part of his contracted work to develop a family plot at a different cemetery in west Cork.
Judge O Donnabháin was told that the widow of the man whose headstone was damaged at St Mary's was very distressed by what had happened.
Her husband died in 2011.
The court was told that the 72-year-old woman, who visited the grave regularly, felt as though she had lost her husband for a second time.
The bronze statue, which had been soldered in place, was replaced by a damaged statue of Padre Pio. The original bronze statue was valued at more than €400.
In a bizarre coincidence, the Padre Pio statue was taken from the grave of another relative of the widow.
Judge O Donnabháin heard that the family who had hired Howell to design and build their family plot were totally unaware of where some of the materials involved had come from.
When they were informed that the grave materials, such as the bronze funerary statue and the decorative shelf, had been taken from another plot without permission, they were appalled and horrified.
The family said they felt they had been "conned" by the contractor.
Howell operated a business called West Cork Grave and Headstone Maintenance.
He worked on plots across the county.
However, the court was told he was well known to gardaí and had a total of 117 previous convictions.
A total of 57 of these convictions were for theft.
Judge O Donnabháin said it was very difficult to imagine a meaner type of crime that could cause such great upset and offence.
The court was told that, in the wake of the incidents, many people in West Cork were worried about the graves of loved ones and would often check on the plots at night.
He jailed Howell, who is originally from Grenagh, for two years but, in light of his plea, agreed to suspend the final six months of the term.
The court was told that, once confronted by gardaí, Howell had made a full admission and had co-operated fully.
He was also remorseful over what had happened. The judge backdated the sentence to September 2017.