‘Devastating’ attack on parish church

St Thomas's Church
St Thomas's Church

Callous burglars broke into a Leigh church and completely ransacked it in an attack which the parish vicar described as “devastating”.

Brass candlesticks and a sound system were among the items stolen from St Thomas’s Church on Chapel Street with the offenders also breaking chairs, kicking doors to pieces and chopping into pieces an enormous metal lectern.

“Frankly I have shed a lot of tears this weekend. It’s devastating to see a building I’ve worked in, worshipped in and committed my ministry to, desecrated in this way.”

Rev Robert Dixon

The yobs’ trail of destruction was discovered by Rev Robert Dixon and his churchwarden when they accompanied the fire service on a routine fire risk assessment.

St Thomas’s closed three years ago after problems including asbestos and electrics damage left the congregation with a massive repair bill, however, many items inside were left intact.

Rev Dixon says it was heartbreaking to see the state the church is now in and is urging anyone nearby to report any suspicious activity in the grounds to police.

He said: “It was incredibly upsetting to see the mess. It is just wanton damage and absolutely wicked. Brass candles have also been stolen, the sound system is gone and grates from the underfloor central heating system have been removed. The kitchen area has been completely ransacked. There were bits of wood and furnishings all over the floor.

“In the lady chapel some of the oak panelling had been ripped away, a huge brass lectern for readers had been cut up and destroyed and chairs had been torn up.

“The crypt was even worse. All the doors leading to the rooms had been smashed in, pipework and wiring had been ripped away from the ceiling, walls and floor and they’ve cut a water pipe which is slowly leaking onto the floor.

“People regard a church as quite personal to them and the parishioners have given their own contributions to its upkeep, so to have it destroyed and vandalised in this way feels like an attack on them.

“Frankly I have shed a lot of tears this weekend. It’s devastating to see a building I’ve worked in, worshipped in and committed my ministry to, desecrated in this way.”

Rev Dixon discovered the spree of criminal activity, which he believes may be an attempt to get hold of scrap metal, last Tuesday and says the break-in must have occurred in the 10 days before that.

He previously went to the church around three weeks ago and the building was secure with no sign of any break-in or disturbance.

Rev Dixon also says he has repeatedly spoken to the Diocese of Manchester since St Thomas’ shut saying the valuable artefacts, some of which have now been wrecked or stolen, needed to be removed for storage somewhere safer.

The building became the responsibility of the diocese in August 2015 following an official service of closure led by the Bishop of Bolton.

All the windows to the crypt have now been boarded up and the building made secure once again but residents around the church are being asked to keep an eye open for suspicious behaviour as the offenders behind the recent break-in appeared to have entered and left the site undetected.

Rev Dixon said: “People are living in the old vicarage, which has been split into four flats, and don’t appear to have heard anything, and there’s blocks of flats overlooking the church and people there don’t appear to have heard anything. It’s frustrating.”

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) confirmed they were called to the church just after 3pm on Tuesday June 14 and enquiries are ongoing.

Anyone with information about the thefts and vandalism should ring police on 101 or call independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.