AN 800-year-old church was targeted by callous vandals who set fire to cemetery land, destroyed it’s benches and damaged gravestones.

Andrei Petrine, vicar at St Nicholas Church on Church Road, Laindon, was horrified to discover vandals had once again targeted the site - a place where not only families lay their loved ones to rest, but also where war graves are kept.

It wasn’t until a few days after the attack that Mr Petrine discovered the damage caused by the alcohol-fuelled yobs - trouble which escalated from jumping on benches to lighting up logs in the cemetery grounds.

He explained: “It turns out one bench was broken a few days ago, another on Sunday, and between Tuesday and Thursday last week they started fire to a pile of logs which spread to a large area of the cemetery, affecting gravestones and turning some of the marble black.

“We expect youngsters came over to drink with cans of beer and started jumping on benches, breaking them.

“It was such a shock when I found the damage on Saturday. People have their loved ones here and this is a beautiful sacred place, it’s historical and has been here for hundreds of years.

“There are even war graves for people who have served and lost their lives for their country, people come here to walk the dogs, have lunch or see the views, so it is upsetting.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen anything on this scale, but we have regular vandalism including litter, graffiti, attempted break-ins with chisels and metal bars, and the stones have been smashed before too.”

The church are now calling on the community to keep a watchful eye.

Mr Petrine hopes that with the aid of residents and church-goers CCTV and lighting could be installed at the site.

The 47-year-old from Laindon continued: “Our resources are never enough anyway, but especially at this time. It’s something the church will need help with, but not just now - it constantly needs to be maintained, guarded and protected. We’d like a volunteer group here on a regular basis to help with this.” Call 101 quoting crime reference 42/156695/20.