Festivals cancelled at St Albans church after thieves' cruel harvest

PUBLISHED: 16:03 09 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:30 06 May 2010

St Michael's School pupils Sam (five), Ava (eight), Keir (seven), and Fleur (six), were looking forward to their Harvest Festival at the church

St Michael's School pupils Sam (five), Ava (eight), Keir (seven), and Fleur (six), were looking forward to their Harvest Festival at the church

TWO funerals and a harvest festival have fallen victim to the work of callous thieves who stole a large section of roof from a historic St Albans church this week. Rainwater has poured into St Michael s Church in St Albans since the culprits stole around

TWO funerals and a harvest festival have fallen victim to the work of callous thieves who stole a large section of roof from a historic St Albans church this week.

Rainwater has poured into St Michael's Church in St Albans since the culprits stole around a third of the lead from its roof in the early hours of Monday morning.

The thieves were disturbed and left behind a large amount of the lead they had removed, but they or another gang returned on Wednesday morning to finish the job - again without success.

Early estimations indicate that the theft, in which copper from the vestry roof was also stolen and other damage caused, will cost in the region of £50,000.

It's unclear if the insurance company will cover the cost as scaffolding was up around the church but the thieves are not thought to have used it to access the roof because it is alarmed.

The church will be out of use for at least another week, forcing grieving families to move funerals elsewhere and the church having to cancel its harvest festival and that of the neighbouring St Michaels JMI School.

The vicar, Reverend Brett Gray, said: "Two funerals have been moved to other churches. It's very distressing for the families as the people whose funerals were being held were part of this church community for decades and they both wanted their funerals here."

St Michael's School has been forced to move its harvest festival into the school hall which is too small for parents to attend.

The Rev Gray said: "The thieves must not realise what their actions mean. They just think they are stealing from a big institution, but they don't realise the effect it has on individuals in the community and a lot of pupils at St Michael's School. People are just devastated."

He is unsure when the church will be able to reopen but said he has been touched by the support from his congregation, the public and colleagues at other churches.

Devastated

St Albans Abbey has invited the church community along to their harvest festival at the weekend and an anonymous member of the public even dropped a £100 cheque through the door after seeing the damage.

A temporary venue for the Sunday meetings of the 100-plus members of the St Michael's Church also needs to be found. The Rev Gray said: "We are looking for alternatives, such as school halls to meet in. But having a Sunday service in a school hall isn't the same as having it in a thousand-year-old church."

Headteacher at St Michael's School, Sarah Hinchliffe, who started the job in January, was looking forward to her first-ever harvest festival at the school.

She said: "We are all devastated. It has had a huge impact on our school life as the church is a very special place for us and we have a service there every Wednesday along with other special events like the harvest festival.

"It affects the whole community. It's had a much wider impact than I think they could've imagined. It really has hurt people's feelings."

But she maintained that the school had been looking for the positive aspects to the theft, such as the way the community had united, and the children were already thinking of ways they could help with fundraising to repair the damage.

A police spokesperson said that five men were spotted at the church in an attempted theft between 6.15am and 6.30am on Wednesday morning and anyone with information about either incident should contact them on 0845 3300 222.

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