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Raiders smash their way into Bishop's Stortford churches to target Christmas charity collections

Reverend Gill Hulme (6230996)
Reverend Gill Hulme (6230996)

Burglars smashed their way into two Bishop’s Stortford churches in a foiled bid to steal the congregations' Christmas donations to charity.

As she surveyed broken glass and doors and battered filing cabinets – damaged as the raiders searched for cash – Methodist Church minister the Rev Gill Hulme said that money was rarely kept at the South Street place of worship.

She believed the would-be thieves deliberately targeted the festive collections for Action for Children and the Methodist Relief and Development Fund, collected for victims of the tsunami caused by the eruption of the Anak Krakatau volcano in Indonesia.

As soon as the damage was discovered, she tried to contact fellow clerics in the town, fearing that other churches had been hit and that the crimes were undetected because of the Christmas break and it became clear that the raiders also targeted All Saints, Stansted Road.

Rev Hulme believed the criminals struck after darkness fell on Boxing Day. Volunteers had spent hours clearing up after the church had hosted the Company at Christmas dinner and festivities for the lonely on December 25.

When volunteers returned for a final clean on Thursday, they found a trail of damage. The raiders struck at the rear of the church and punched their way through glass panels in a series of external and internal doors.

They rifled through the office of the town’s food bank, which is based at the church, before entering the main body of the building and the parish office, where they tried to batter their way into a safe bolted to the floor.

Rev Hulme, who has been in charge for 18 months, said: “We were actually very fortunate. They smashed the front of the safe but were unable to get into it.”

She estimated the congregation had donated more than £200 for Action for Children and more than £400 for the tsunami victims through collections at the church’s carol service and Christmas Day service.

As they made their way through the church, the raiders knocked over and smashed dozens of communion cups – individual glass vessels – but she was grateful that the burglars focused on finding cash rather than vandalising the building.

However, the church now faces a hefty bill to repair the damage and replace the safe.

Used as a community hub by groups as diverse as Kickstart, which helps the unemployed find work, a chess club, badminton players, a knit and natter group, yoga sessions and a mental health charity, the church also faces an administrative challenge to contact all users over the holidays and issue new keys as the locks have now been changed.

At All Saints, where the congregation had collected for the town's Bridge Youth Church, the raiders also failed to break into the safe, but caused damage in their attempt. As she looked forward to New Year services, Mother Su Tarran said: "It's one of those annoying sad things you have to deal with, but it will not stop us."

A spokeswoman for Hertfordshire Constabulary confirmed the two incidents were being linked. Anyone with information about the Methodist Church break-in is asked to go online www.herts.police.uk/report or call police on 101, quoting crime reference 41/69670/18. The reference for the All Saints burglary is 41/69597/18.

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