A man who spat on a Catholic priest in a “disgusting, cowardly and provocative” act as an orange walk passed a church has been jailed for 10 months.
Father Thomas White was targeted outside St Alphonsus Church in London Road, Glasgow, on July 7 last year, when he was speaking to parishioners.
Bradley Wallace, 24, from Uddingston in South Lanarkshire, admitted assaulting Father White – a charge aggravated by religious prejudice – when he appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court last month.
He was ordered to spend 10 months behind bars when he returned to the court for sentencing on Wednesday.
The court was told that Wallace, who was intoxicated with alcohol that day, accepts that his behaviour was “utterly reprehensible and quite frankly disgusting”.
Passing sentence, Sheriff Andrew Cubie said: “This is about the courts reflecting disapproval of the depressingly still deep-seated and widespread social issue of sectarianism which generates at the very least tension and at worst both hatred and conflict, and which disfigures civilised society.
“The courts in Scotland still deal all too frequently with cases of sectarian abuse which serve to harden and perpetuate divisions in society.”
He also told the offender: “In my view, this entire incident was not so much aggravated by as entirely motivated by, religious prejudice.”
The court heard how the assault happened amid a “grotesque spectacle” as the clergyman sought sanctuary in his own church to avoid the behaviour of a crowd outside, but he was unable to return to the building.
Father White was in his clerical garb at the time, following a church service.
Wallace was arrested days after the incident and the court heard that DNA tests confirmed his guilt.
The attack on a respected member of the local community drew widespread condemnation, including from cross-party politicians, at the time.
Sheriff Cubie told Wallace: “You could have acted with restraint but rather, no doubt emboldened by (and thinking that you were under the cover of) this aggressive and threatening crowd, you took the decision to spit on the priest, an act which is disgusting, cowardly and provocative, which demonstrates contempt and hostility and is designed to humiliate and demean.
“The whole situation must have been, as you recognise, very frightening for the complainer and those around him.”
Sheriff Cubie said the social context in which the offence happened could not be overlooked.
He told Wallace: “You are at an age when you must realise that such behaviour serves to maintain the sectarian divide. How could any 24-year-old from Scotland not know that it is wrong to peddle sectarianism?
“It is no doubt partly because of the ‘echo chamber’ effect of much social media, where your loyalties are displayed and perhaps your motivation identified.”
Defence lawyer John Coogan told the court on Wednesday: “Bradley Wallace properly acknowledges that this offence is utterly reprehensible and, quite frankly, disgusting.”
He said the accused, who had consumed alcohol to excess that day, recognises the impact his actions have had on the priest and the wider public.
Wallace has also been seeking a meeting in which he can apologise directly to Father White, the court was told.
The sheriff said a custodial term was the only appropriate sentence in the case and the 10-month sentence he imposed was reduced from a possible 15-month term to take account of Wallace’s early guilty plea.
Sheriff Cubie told the court: “Those tempted to act in a sectarian way must understand society’s repugnance of and weariness of that kind of behaviour and must expect to be dealt with accordingly.”