Priest urges thieves to repent and return safe

RAIDERS who stole a safe containing "irreplaceable" historical records of marriages and burials from a church are being urged to repent - and return them.

Father Philip Blackledge said his congregation at St Peter's Church in Linlithgow would pray for the culprits at their next service on Sunday.

The thieves made off with the safe where he kept the church's only copy of its register of services, in which thousands of baptisms, weddings and funerals going back to 1926 were detailed.

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Father Blackledge said the leather-bound book was "irreplaceable", and was used by congregation members to pray for church members who had passed away. The theft also saw communion silverware, which was stored in the safe, taken during the raid on the High Street church.

Police are appealing for witnesses after the large safe was taken from a side room of the church some time between 11.30am on Tuesday and 9pm on Wednesday.

Father Blackledge said: "A member of the congregation had been putting out the bins at the church on Wednesday evening when they noticed the back door had been forced open.

"They investigated and found that the safe, which had been in the church since it was built in 1926, had been stolen. It contained our silverware for communion including two chalices, collection plates, a cup and a paten.

"The safe was the size of a fridge. I would imagine that it would have taken three or four people to move it. They would also have to take it through a passageway out on to the street so it would not have been easy.

"The silverware may have been worth thousands of pounds, but it was the loss of our register of services which has been devastating. It has no monetary value but was irreplaceable record for our church containing every baptism, marriage and burial conducted at the church since 1926.

"The book was such a resource for our church. People researching their family trees would come to find details about relatives buried here.

"On All Souls' Day we would remember those who have gone before us and look at the names in the book. It was very much part of the life of the church and there was only one copy."

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Father Blackledge added: "My first thought when this happened was it was better that he were robbed than some elderly lady in her home. But I would hope those responsible could fine the compassion to return the book to us. Our congregation will pray for them on Sunday. We are taught that the penitent thief is the first into heaven."

A police spokesman said: "These items may not have a significant monetary value, but they are of great significance to the history of the church and its congregation.

"This incident will no doubt have caused a great deal of upset to everyone involved with the church."