VICARS and vergers tormented by loutish behaviour turned to an ancient ecclesiastical law yesterday to ban the troublemakers from the grounds of churches.

The 1861 Ecclesiastical Causes Act was invoked by Sunderland City Magistrates yesterday to punish three men who were caught drinking in a cemetery on the outskirts of Sunderland.

The 19th Century ruling means the yobs shalt no longer invade the sanctity of cemeteries in the entire Wearside area.

The men - Christopher Watson, 19, of Maud Street, Michael Noble, 20, of Borrowdale Avenue, and 24-year-old Lee Devine, of Cairns Road, all Sunderland, appeared in court for the first time yesterday.

The trio, who also face criminal charges of causing public disorder, were caught drinking in the church grounds on November 12 last year.

It is believed to be the first time the ancient law has been used in Sunderland - and this has alerted other worried custodians of churchyards to its use.

Solicitor Bill Scanlan, acting for the accused, applied for an adjournment to allow him to take instructions.

The case was adjourned to Wednesday, March 10, and all three were released on unconditional bail.