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Vandals trash historic church

PUBLISHED: 06:05 08 March 2002 | UPDATED: 11:30 03 March 2010

ONE of Suffolk's religious treasures has been damaged beyond repair as the tide of crime in the county's churches continues to rise.

A beautiful carved lectern worth more than £20,000 was destroyed by vandals as they rampaged through a historic church near Bury St Edmunds.

ONE of Suffolk's religious treasures has been damaged beyond repair as the tide of crime in the county's churches continues to rise.

A beautiful carved lectern worth more than £20,000 was destroyed by vandals as they rampaged through a historic church near Bury St Edmunds.

It is the latest attack on churches across Suffolk. In January and February eight were targeted in two weeks and recently thieves were foiled thanks to a power failure at the Fakenham Magna church in west Suffolk.

It is thought the burglar planned to use power tools to force open a safe but was unable to get them working.

Police believe many of the crimes, at churches in towns and villages including Woodbridge, Mildenhall, Cavendish and Great Ashfield, have been carried out by a man posing as a tourist thought to be using a maroon car to make his getaway.

Church officials are now urging congregations and people living close to their historic treasure houses to be extra vigilant in a bid to stamp out the growing crime.

Disgusted officials at the latest parish to fall victim to criminals, Little Whelnetham, fear the rare six foot wooden lectern – which depicted a mighty eagle in flight – is now beyond repair.

The vandals got into the St Mary Magdalene church and left a trail of destruction behind them – smashing candles and the specially carved lanterns they stood in, leaving kneelers strewn everywhere and scattering church literature.

Frank Young, a member of the parochial church council, said he was horrified when he discovered what had happened.

He believes youths are behind the damage and said: "It looked as though they had been having a battle with the kneelers – they had been thrown about everywhere.

"There's no electricity in the church so we used candles which stood in three candelabra made by a former member of the congregation. A lot of the candles have been broken and a number of the holders themselves smashed.

"I'm absolutely disgusted. There is no reason for anyone to damage a church at all. I remember when I was a boy that young people would never have dreamt of going into a church apart from to attend a service."

Mr Young said the worst damage was to the church's Great Eagle Lectern.

The stem is modern but the ball and bird are probably part of a Flemish 17th Century lectern which would have stood in the centre of a great church.

A recent insurance valuation estimated it to be worth more than £20,000, added Mr Young, who described the lectern as a village treasure. The rest of the damage is expected to cost £10,000 to put right.

A meeting of church officials is now being planned to consider the implications of the attack, which happened between February 27 and Monday, March 4.

A police spokeswoman said the vandalism was not being linked to the recent string of break-ins at churches across Suffolk.

"This was just a mindless act of vandalism whereas with the burglaries something was always taken. Nothing was taken here – they just ran riot."

Nick Clarke, spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said that for many churches shutting and locking doors was not an option.

"Because of the nature of the buildings many people believe it's vital to stay open. So what we are doing now is asking clergy and people living near churches to keep an eye out for anything suspicious," he said.

Anyone with information about any of the church crime is asked to contact police on 01284 774100.


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