THIEVES have ransacked a church and stolen four crucifixes, collection plates and silver chalices.

The raid on St Michael with St Bartholomew Church in Manchester Road, Great Lever, took place on Saturday night.

Worshippers believe the thieves came prepared as they also drilled into the church safe.

There was no service yesterday, with members of the congregation attending another church, but the scene of destruction was discovered by church warden Bob Senior.

He said: “I was shocked — they are evil people.

It is soul destroying, we are struggling to survive as it is. We are trying to keep this church going and things like this are knocking us back all the time.”

Mr Senior, aged 67, said the stolen metal would probably be worth about £50 as scrap, but had huge sentimental value to the church.

The church, which celebrated its 160th anniversary last month, was the victim of lead thefts from its roof three times last year and has now replaced the lead with stainless steel.

Police have launched an investigation.

The list of items stolen includes: ● Four large brass crosses ● Two brass candlestick holders ● A brass bible stand ● Four brass collection plates ● Four silver chalices ● A dehumidifier, only recently given to the church.

It is not known how the thieves got into the church as there was no sign of forced entry.

Margaret Brockie, former church secretary and a member of the congregation, said: “I cannot believe someone could do this. They have stolen it for scrap but they will have to take it somewhere illegal because who is going to melt down a metal cross without knowing it has been stolen?”

The thefts come just days after officers raided scrapyards across Bolton to clamp down on trade in stolen metal as part of Operation Alloy. Metal thefts in Bolton, Wigan and Rochdale account for 42 per cent of all reported metal thefts in the region.

Anyone with information about the latest church raid, or any others, should call police on 0161 872 5050 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.