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The mummified remains.
St Michan's Church

Man appears in court accused in Dublin church crypt fire that destroyed 'priceless' mummies

A tour guide raised the alarm for the fire after noticing smoke in the vault of the building on Church Street.

A PART-TIME security guard has been accused of criminal damage after a fire destroyed “priceless” and “irreplaceable” ancient mummies in the crypt at St Michan’s Church in Dublin. 

Christian Topiter, 38, was held in prison custody on remand pending approval of a person to stand his bail and needs €4,000 lodged in court before he can be released.

The blaze happened at around 4pm yesterday, and water damage is believed to have ruined five mummified remains, including an 800-year-old artefact known as ‘The Crusader’.

A tour guide raised the alarm after noticing smoke in the vault of the building on Church Street.

The Dublin Fire Brigade extinguished the flames before they spread to the rest of the building and made the area safe. No injuries have been reported.

Gardai arrested Christian Topiter, 38, who has used various addresses and had a Romanian travel card, and he was detained at a north Dublin station overnight.

Mr Topiter, formerly of Grand Canal House, Lower Rathmines Road, Dublin 6, was charged with causing criminal damage at St Michan’s Church to mummified remains, property of Church of Ireland Archdeacon of Dublin & Vicar of St Michan’s Church David Pierpoint.

He appeared before Judge Shalom Binchy at Dublin District Court today. 

Objecting to bail, Garda James Kenny told the court he was concerned the accused would commit more offences or interfere with witnesses.

The garda said there was CCTV evidence and alleged the accused was arrested shortly afterwards wearing distinct clothing.

Judge Binchy heard that a witness told gardai that there was a person “locked behind gates where this incident occurred, where he would have had to forcibly enter”.

The court heard that lately, Mr Topiter had been living 200 metres away in a hostel beside Merchant’s Quay.

The officer claimed the accused said in his Garda interview that he knew people in the church, but gardai have been unable to establish a reason for the incident, “and a lack of motive gives gardai grave concerns”.

Garda Kenny said historical artefacts of this nature are priceless and irreplaceable.
The garda maintained that the offence was at the higher end of criminal damage offences, which could carry a maximum 10-year sentence.

The garda alleged Mr Topiter became aggressive in his interview and attempted to rip up his statement.

The court heard he had not provided identification documents and gardai were not 100 percent satisfied with his identity or that he had ties to this jurisdiction.

No conditions, Garda Kenny said, would appease his concerns, and he asked the court to refuse bail.

Cross-examined by defence solicitor John Shanley, the officer conceded that gardai had information about his client’s identity but added that enquiries were also ongoing.

Mr Shanley challenged the bail objections, saying that his client had “clear ties” to Ireland and was in a four-and-a-half-year relationship with his fiancee, who attended the hearing.

He also argued that there was no evidence before the court that his client would interfere with witnesses. Mr Shanley said his client was in a stable relationship, worked as a security guard, received social welfare payments, and participated in a charity soup run.

Addressing the garda’s “grave concerns” about returning to the church and committing more offences, the defence solicitor countered that contention, saying, “There was no history of that”.

The garda sustained the bail objection, citing the seriousness of the case and the irrevocable damage to historical artefacts.

Pleading for bail, the defence submitted that Mr Topiter had an immigration identity card issued by gardai, was presumed innocent, and would obey conditions.

The solicitor also stressed his client had no history of serious offences.

Judge Binchy noted the garda evidence but said the accused had a presumption in favour of bail, which she set in his bond of €10,000, of which €2,000 must be lodged. He must also have a €10,000 independent surety approved with a €2,000 lodgement.

Once bail has been taken up, he must stay away from St Michan’s Church, not contact witnesses, provide the gardai with his address, and surrender his identification or travel documents.

The accused, who stood silently throughout the hearing, has yet to enter a plea and was granted legal aid.

Judge Binchy remanded him in custody with consent to bail under the terms she outlined, to appear via video link at Cloverhill District Court next Tuesday.

The mummified remains in the crypt are believed to have been destroyed by the water that was required to put out the fire.

The other mummies date back 400 years, in addition to ‘The Crusader’. A team from the Garda Technical Bureau sealed off the scene for a forensic examination, and no tours can take place until further notice.