CALLOUS thieves have gone on a church burgling spree, smashing their way through nine places of worship to steal just a laptop, some loose change and a box of chocolates.

The burglars have caused thousands of pounds of damage to churches across Southend, Westcliff, and Leigh, during a two-week crime spree.

In one incident, the thugs pulled apart a gravestone to throw through a window to get in, while in another case they smashed their way through an ornate stained glass window.

Father Neil Paxton, from All Saints Church, in Sutton Road, Southend, had a £500 glass and lead window smashed at the side of his church, while a collection jar with just £40 in it was also taken.

He said: “They have stolen from people who have very little.

People think the church is wealthy, but it’s anything but.

“What we do, we do for the community. In essence, these people are stealing from the people around them.”

Andreas Anastasiou, chairman of the Greek Community of Southend district, said they will have to spend at least £1,500 fixing a 6ft stained glass window which was smashed in the Greek Orthodox Church, in Salisbury Avenue, Westcliff.

He said: “The children came in the day after it happened and they were in shock. We are a close community and this will upset a lot of people.

“It’s a really beautiful window.

Part of it read ‘Emily Howard 1933’ which was probably a parishioner who paid for it and it may well have been installed then.”

Raiders even tried to break into a church building which is no longer a place of worship.

They pulled up some white marble from a grave and threw it through a window at Prittlewell Chapel, in North Road, Westcliff, which is nowused as a community office space by Southend Association of Voluntary Services. After being spooked by an alarm, theymade off with just one laptop.

Project manager Anthony Quinn said: “It will cost £800 to replace the window and £250 for the laptop.

“We are a low resource charity trying to do the best for people with the little we have.

“The building is for the community, but people are coming from outside and damaging it.

It’s frustrating and not nice. It appears to be planned by people who are not very professional.”

Southend district commander, chief inspector Simon Anslow, said: “These break-ins appear to be occurring overnight We don’t often get places of worship broken into. They are still seen as a sacred place to most people.

“These types of offence cause great distress to people who work in a church and those who attend them. I urge people with information or those who see suspicious activity around places of worship to call the police.”

Anyone with information about the break-ins, which happened between May 8 and May 24 can call police on 101.

THE churches which have been targeted are: All Saints Church, Sutton Road, Southend, between May 8 at 7pm and May 9 at 8.45pm.

St John the Baptist Church, Church Road, Southend, between May 16 and 10.30pm and May 17 at 9.30am.

Salvation Army, Glendale Gardens, Leigh, on May 16 between 9pm and 10.20pm.

Crowstone Christian Centre, Crowstone Road, Westcliff, between May 19 at 10pm and May 20 at 7am.

St Alban the Martyr’s Church, St John’s Road, Westcliff, between May 19 at 4pm and May 20 at 8.30am.

Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation, Finchley Road, Westcliff, on May 20 between 12.58am and 1.04am.

St Saviours Church, Kings Road, Westcliff, between May 20 at 9pm and May 21 at 10am.

Southend Association of Voluntary Services, North Road, Westcliff, on May 20 at 2am.

Greek Orthodox Church of St Barbara, Salisbury Avenue, Westcliff, between May 18 at 2pm and May 24 at 10.30am.

BRAZEN thieves helped themselves to church candles to guide them around St Saviours Chuch to find their loot – which was only a box of Kit Kats.

Reverend Lee Mullen, from the church, in Kings Road, Westcliff, followed a trail of wax left by the raiders, who broke through windows on two separate nights to try to gain entry to the building.

It led him to the church’s cafe, where he found the only thing which had been taken was a box of chocolate bars.

But he still must fork out about £1,000 to replace coloured windows in the church, which were destroyed during the break-in.

He said: “As well as the windows, it will cost us a fortune to get the carpets cleaned.

“I would hope some folks realise that churches help with bereavement. When someone loses a loved one, the church is the first place to go.

“The people who did this have no regard for that.

“If we had a funeral booked the next day can you imagine the grief these people would feel?”