DESPICABLE thieves targeted a historic church, breaking in and causing up to £1,000 in damage.

The Rev Ruth Cartwright and her husband Stuart were devastated to discover thieves had forced entry into St James the Less church, in High Street, Hadleigh, in an overnight raid.

Ruth, from Hadleigh, said: “This is heartbreaking for us. My husband first noticed when he went in on Friday morning and saw the door left wide open.

“Thieves entered through the outside vestry door and then kicked their way through the door between the vestry and the church, completely smashing a panel in.

"They raided the cupboards and threw things out to find anything valuable and closed the curtains so that nobody could see them.

“They only got away with about £700 at most, but none of it will be any use to them.

"They took a photocopier, the one piece of church equipment that we’re using to send out a weekly newsletter to keep in touch with congregation members, many of whom are in lockdown, self-isolating and over 70.

“They took a brass cross, the collection plate, a toaster, coffee machine, a fire extinguisher and damaged the sound system in an attempt to take it.

“A spade was found next to the safe so we think they tried to get inside. It’s the damage, which could be up to £1,000 worth, which will be the biggest impact.”

She continued: “I’m really upset. Our parishioners have used the weekly newsletter at home as a ray of light and now we are going to find it hard to get this out, as many are not on the internet. “Thankfully, our colleagues at other churches have reached out and offered us to use theirs.

“It’s so sad that we have already had to completely close our church buildings as a result of the outbreak, so for anyone to take advantage in this way is awful. Desperate times like this clearly bring out the best and worst in people.”

A spokesperson from Essex Police, said: “We are appealing for information following a burglary at St James the Less, High Street, Hadleigh.

“We were called at around 7.30am on Friday with reports that the church has been broken into. A messy search was conducted, and a photocopier was taken.

“Call 101 quoting crime reference number 42/46691/20.”