MINDLESS metal thieves are repeatedly targeting an historic St Helens church.
In one shocking overnight raid, thieves stole a large copper hot water cylinder and gas piping from the church hall at Christ Church in Eccleston - leaving gas leaking for several hours.
Crooks have also risked life and limb to scale the church roof - not once, but twice - to steal mounted copper ventilator units.
Revd Bill Forster said: “There have been various incidences of theft and vandalism in the four years I have been here, but things have definitely got worse in the last 12 months.
“The theft of the cylinder and the gas piping could have caused an explosion. When I went in to church the following morning the door of the boiler house had been smashed off its hinges and I was met with the sound of escaping gas. It was a very dangerous scenario.
“More recently, we’ve had three ventilator units, together with the lead apron they sat on, stolen from the apex of the church roof. It’s awful that people steal at all, but to target a church is extremely disappointing.
“It’s also a shame that whoever is doing this is presumably turning up at a scrapyard somewhere and trading these items in with no questions asked.”
The hot water cylinder, which was stolen just before Christmas, has since been recovered by the police but was so badly damaged that it was rendered unusable.
Bosses at the Church Lane place of worship have also had to remove the roof of the seated area in the garden of remembrance, due to damage caused by vandalism, and cover up the holes in the roof created by the stolen ventilators.
Aside from the metal thefts, both wheelie bins in the churchyard have also been set on fire in recent months.
Revd Forster added: “At the moment it’s anybody’s guess who might be doing this. The church is surrounded by trees in leaf, which is lovely, but does lend itself to these sorts of things.
“The local PCSOs are very good at keeping an eye on the place. But they can’t watch the church at all times.”
Eccleston neighbourhood inspector Paul Holden said: “All thefts are distressing for victims but it is particularly reprehensible that someone has targeted a church. It is a focal point for the community and offenders have caused considerable and costly damage.
“I would appeal for anyone who has seen suspicious activity in this area to contact the police. In the meantime we are continuing to visit the church regularly to speak to the warden and volunteers about any concerns they have and work is already underway to improve security.”
Anyone with any information about any of the incidents can call Crimestoppers, in confidence, on 0800 555 111.