METAL-THIEVES stole 55 grave markers from the churchyard of St Margaret’s, West Hoathly, in West Sussex, last month.
Parishioners expressed shock after the churchyard was targeted on 14 August.
The Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Nicol Kinrade, said: “Two men were seen by a local resident acting suspiciously . . . carrying a bucket with what was thought to be slate. They ran off and, although it seemed odd, no connection was made between the bucket’s content and the terraces.”
Each plaque was torn from a stone wall where it marked a plot where cremated ashes had been interred.
Ms Kinrade said: “The next morning, the scale of the theft was discovered, leaving myself, the churchwardens, and the whole parish shocked by such a callous act. Many plaques were missing, and others were damaged where the thieves had been unable to detach them from the wall. The police have, of course, been notified.”
PCSO Daryl Holter, a heritage-crime officer at Sussex Police, said: “This not only involves metal theft, but the stealing of families’ personal memories of loved ones. It was an utterly callous act, showing not a shred of respect for the dead.
“This is very distressing for the relatives, and for the church. The scrap value of the metal will be nothing in comparison to the hurt this will cause people, to know their family graves have been subject to such unthinking indignity.
“We ask the people who did this to step back from their actions, look to their conscience, and please return the plaques.”
Sussex Police said on Wednesday that there had been no further developments.
Ms Kinrade can be reached on 01342 810 183 by anyone who that thinks the marker for a relative of theirs is missing.