THE Ogbourne St Andrew community were left disgusted after thieves broke into the village's ancient church and smashed a gaping hole through a window, causing £2,000 of damage.

Between midday on April 30 and 2pm on May 2, thieves broke into the church, belting an 18-inch hole through a leaded window, which they then climbed through, and made off with money from a Children's Society box, leaving by the south door.

Now the Parochial Church Council has been hit with a £2,000 bill to replace part of the window at the 12th-century church, which has angered much of the community.

"This despicable and mindless action has left us with a repair bill of maybe £2,000 or possibly more and to take the small amount of charity money we had there too is awful," said PCC member Marion Gordon-Finlayson.

"These people do not realise that small rural churches are really struggling financially. This act had caused a lot of anger and grief amongst the community. If we can get people to come forward and help the people, that could lead to the conviction of these criminals.

"The hole is nearly six feet off the ground. When the church team inspected it, after finding out about it on May 2, there was no brick or log to be found so I do not know how they got in.

"We have boarded it up now as it was such a sad sight to see. It is a disgraceful act but unfortunately this is not the first time something like this has happened.

"Just under 10 years ago as damage was done to the windows by people throwing stones and that puts a strain on the church's finances.

"This is a Grade I listed church that goes back to the 12th century. Thieves and vandals like these do not care about that history. It is disgraceful."

Churchwarden Richard Gray said: "I was pretty horrified when I found out. It is very sad. Churches are a linchpin of village communities and this one is no exception.

"The police have been down here with the forensics team but I do not think they have found anything so far. We have around 450 people in the village and many events go on here. However, we have been here for nearly 1,000 years and this will not stop us from carrying on its great history."

A police spokesman said: "A window was smashed and an unknown amount of money stolen from a Children’s Society charity box.

House-to-house and CCTV enquiries have been carried out, and further enquiries are ongoing. Anyone with information should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111."