Headstone maintenance worker 'took items from graves and put on plots he was hired to upgrade'
A HEADSTONE maintenance contractor was jailed for taking items from graves and then using them on other plots he had been hired to upgrade.
Mark Howell (39) was jailed for 18 months for what Cork Circuit Criminal Court's Judge Sean O'Donnabháin described as "an unbelievable mean and despicable" offence.
Howell of MacCurtain Hill, Clonakilty, Co Cork pleaded guilty to criminal damage at St Mary's Cemetery in Clonakilty in August 2017.
The defendant worked as a contractor for the maintenance and upgrading of cemetery plots.
However, the court heard that 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.
The court was told that the 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.
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 entitled '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.
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 judge backdated the sentence to September 2017.