VANDALS punched a hole in the roof of a much-loved 900-year-old church to steal lead from the roof to the tune of nearly £10,000.

Parishioners at St James’ Church in Little Paxton were devastated when they walked out after Sunday service to discover brazen thieves had trampled over burial plots to desecrate the traditional stone building which is thought to date back to the Middle Ages.

To rub salt into the wound, their raid for just a couple of hundreds of pounds worth of goods to sell on the black market will cost the church thousands to repair and cause a huge setback to the church’s fundraising for a dream renovation.

The Reverend Annette Reed now wants to speak to the culprits to bring home to them the damage they caused and find out what possessed them to ruin a beloved place of worship.

“A lot of people are very upset,” the St James’ Church vicar said. “They spend hours looking after the building to see that people have had to come into the grounds to desecrate the churchyard and the building.

“I would like to talk to those who did it, explain why they church is there and tell them the distress it causes.”

Parts of the church building are thought to date back as far as 1100 and Royalist troops are said to have found sanctuary within its walls during the English Civil War.

Today it relies on good-natured volunteers to clean, cut the grass and lead services to support people in the community, making the latest theft even more gutting.

“It is not about a building. It is actually about people,” The Rev Reed said. “It is like breaking into their homes. People put a lot of time and energy into its upkeep and it is there for the benefit of ordinary people.”

St James’ Church suffered a spate of lead thefts in 2007 but people are now not sure whether the vandals will come back for more.

The Rev Reed added: “Some of the churchfolk are pretty angry. They would like to know why they did it. It was a brazen thing and I find it disgraceful.”

She estimates the repair cost will be between £5,000 and £8,000 but church treasurer Peter Hagger believes the bill could be as much as £10,000.

He said: “I’m just disappointed this has happened, especially at a time when we are trying to raise money to improve the church. I would sooner have given them £200 if they needed the money that much. It is just wanton damage.”

Police have visited the church and spoken to residents living nearby. It is thought the theft happened some time between Friday (October 8) night and Sunday (October 10) morning.

Anyone with information should call Cambridgeshire Police on 0345 456 4564.