Minister's fury at church vandals

A MINISTER today spoke of his anger towards the "mindless, wanton vandals" who stole a poppy appeal charity box from his church before pushing over a number of gravestones.

Reverend Malcolm Lyon said the local community had been left shocked by the break-in and vandal attack at Yester Parish Church in Gifford, East Lothian.

The thieves are believed to have hidden inside the church while it was locked up before stealing the charity cash.

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As well as causing minor damage inside the building, the culprits also pushed four gravestones off their plinths.

Rev Lyon said the incident had been particularly upsetting for congregation members as the church had undergone a 700,000 restoration project which was only completed in January.

Worshippers are also preparing to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the church in October.

Rev Lyon said: "The church officer locked up on Saturday and only discovered what had happened when she returned to open up for the Sunday service. It seems they had concealed themselves inside while she closed up then came out and stole the charity collection.

"They found a set of keys to let themselves out again and must have damaged the gravestones after that. Some of the stones were extremely heavy and had medal rods attaching them to the base. That might suggest there was more than one person involved.

"The gravestones nearby were from the 19th century so it's likely that those damaged are from the same period."

Police said the theft and vandalism was carried out at the church in Gifford's Haddington Road between 4.30pm on Saturday and 11am on Sunday.

Rev Lyon, who has been minister at the church for three years, added: "You don't need to have religious beliefs to respect someone's last resting place. They are mindless, wanton vandals. It beggars belief.

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"It also makes us very angry that they took the poppy appeal box. There are soldiers at this moment putting their lives at risk in the hope that we can all live in some kind of peace. Those few pounds could have ultimately gone to soldiers serving right now, not just those who fought in the past.

"There's a real feeling of shock in the community. The community came together to raise funds to save their kirk and it was really a mammoth effort. The church is such a focal point in the village. "This feels like a slap in the face."

The church was re-dedicated by the Right Reverend William Hewitt, moderator of the Church of Scotland's General Assembly, at a ceremony in January following the three-year campaign to return the building it its former glory.

A police spokesman said: "This is a despicable act of vandalism and theft and we are keen to speak to anyone who can help us identify and locate those responsible.

Anyone with information is asked to call police on 0131-311 3131 or 0800-555 111.

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