By Antoine Lokongo PARISHIONhRS at a church where 11 people were injured when a sword-wielding madman ran amok at Sunday Mass, prayed for their attacker last week as he was ordered to be detained indefinitely in a secure hospital.
As the verdict was delivered at the Old Bailey, the faithful gathered at the south London church to ask forgiveness for Eden Strang, their 26-year-old attacker and to mark an end to their sevenmonth struggle to come to terms with the attack.
A jury took just 10 minutes to find Strang, an unemployed computer programmer, not guilty by reason of insanity on 13 charges of attempted murder and assault. Judge Michael Hyam praised the bravery of the parishioners ol St Andrew's, Thornton Heath, who overpowered Strang with an organ pipe and a crucifix.
Parish priest Fr John O'Toole told The Catholic Herald that Strang was "a desperate man who very much needs more help, compassion and support than anyone else".
He said: "The whole parish community's feeling is that this man needs psychiatric treatments rather than punishment. However we are not saying that he should be released until he is proven safe for himself and the public. The legal procedure has been brought to an end and justice done."
Fr O'Toole said that parishioners had slowly come to terms with the assault through mutual support, special counselling sessions and help from police and social services.
"The support and friend ship from all these sources were great and parish has sufficiently benefited from them," he said.
Fr O'Toole also described how 400 parishioners held a meeting on how to deal with the situation. The police and fire service, as well as the parish's own health and safety group, have advised the parish council on congregation safety. They have recom mended that the parish replace existing narrow pews with "secure benches", which leave enough room for a hurried exit.
"We have a well equipped modern church. Despite what happened, it has to remain a welcoming place," Fr O'Toole said, adding that "a Mass of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and thanksgiving is planned".
Terror came to Thornton Heath on the morning of November 28, when Eden Strang left his house in Brook Road and walked naked to the forecourt of St Andrew's Church bearing a razor sharp samurai sword. His first victim was 50-year-old Paul Chilton. who was waiting outside the church as morning Mass took place. Strang sliced open his cheek and neck, and severed his index finger and thumb as Chilton desperately tried to defend himself. He lost a great amount of blood and is still in hospital.
Strang then burst into the church and indiscriminately slashed people with his sword. Joseph Grech was cut across the arm and the deep wound he sustained caused a bone fracture. Pensioner Gregory Fernandez was slashed three times, and Jules Parcou was struck in the shoulder and neck. Margaret Sharp, 83, received a savage blow to the back which left her with a collapsed lung.
Theresa McManness, an elderly parishioner told how panicked parishioners tried desperately to escape or hide under the narrow pews, but fell on her back, opening an old injwy. She had to be taken to May Day hospital immediately and was treated for three weeks.
Another eyewitness Tess McWilliams who was just about to do the bidding prayers when Strang burst in, told The Catholic Herald of her dreadful realisation that the latecomer at the back of church was a sword-wielding attacker.
"When! saw a fully naked man wielding a sword and slashing people coming up to the altar, I thought I was next. We were all frightened until the man was apprehended. But I don't think the man knew what he was doing," Mrs McMillan said. —The community has nearly recovered from it all thanks to its closeness. We hope in God and support each other. There is a lot of praying and counselling still going on for anyone who needs it."
Strang was eventually subdued by Pc Tom Tracey, 40, an off-duty police constable who tackled him with a pipe ripped from the organ and Bob Wright, a 53-yearold bank clerk, who pinned him down with a crucifix. Armed police then swiftly stormed the church, terrify ing Sunday-school children who were waiting behind a screen to go back into the church when the attack happened. They arrested Strang and took him to Bromley hospital suffering from self-inflicted wounds.
Pc Tracey told The Herald that he believed Strang to be clinically insane. "The culprit is not an evil man but his mental state requires that for his own interest and the public's interest, he be locked up for a sufficient length of time in a secure psychiatric hospital and should only be released with the permission of the Home Office," he said.
Tony Baldrick, Strang's neighbour and eye witness said that his niece, who boarded the same bus as Strang before the attack, heard him shouting: "God hates me, Jesus hates me."
"The man could no longer believe in himself after he was made redundant from his computer job. He blamed God for everything. I thought may be he was on drugs. Somebody like that needs to be sorted out. Why on earth sell a lethal weapon to such a man? There should be a clamp down on dangerous knifes," Mr Baldrick said.
Nicholas Hilliard, prosecuting, told the jury that Strang was suffering from schizophrenia and had gone mad after hearing voices he claimed were directly from God.
"He suffered delusions that his victims were demons and evil spirits in human forms and were worshipping false gods," he said. "He later
confessed to a nurse: 'I passed judgement. The Good Book says thou shalt not worship false idols."
Glasgow-born Strang is reported to have been brought up by his grandmother after his mother died of an Aidsrelated illness and his stepfather of a drugs overdose. Married with one daughter, Strang pleaded not guilty to seven counts of attempted murder, three of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and one of causing grievous bodily harm with intent.