URNS containing the ashes of loved ones have been deliberately smashed by vandals.

Families have been left devastated after yobs targeted the columbarium in the grounds of the old St Simon and St Jude’s Church in Rishton Lane, Great Lever.

The vandals smashed concrete to get to the urns before throwing them to the ground.

Jacqueline Milner, aged 49, and her daughter, Kirsty, aged 24, were distraught by what they discovered when they went to place flowers in for Mrs Milner’s parents, Jack and Jean Birch.

Although part of the columbarium where these family ashes were kept, was not vandalised, Mrs Milner said: “I was devastated. They have smashed through and pulled out the boxes with ashes in. Who would do this?

“My daughter was really upset by what she saw. We laid the flowers, but it was so upsetting.”

Mrs Milner, originally from Great Lever but now living in Dubai, added: “We knew the church was closed and expected it to be overgrown, but you do not expect to find someone has done this.”

Mrs Milner who is staying in Blackrod reported the vandalism to the police.

Her parents’ ashes were laid in the church grounds because of Mr Birch’s connection with the church.

She said: “It was the heart of the community and I was christened there.

“When we heard the church was going to close, I wrote asking if we could remove the ashes, but it would have been long and costly process.”

Mrs Milner added: “Whoever has done this has no respect.”

The Rev Bob Horrocks, team rector of Seven Saints Rectory, based in Farnworth, said: “I was dismayed to hear of the wanton act of destruction and desecration which has taken place in the grounds of the former church.

“Having seen for myself the result of the vandalism, my thoughts and prayers are with the relatives of those whose remains have been disturbed.

“I find it difficult to understand why anyone would want to commit such an act, which they cannot fail to recognise would cause untold hurt to the families of the deceased.

“Two compartments in the columbarium had been broken open and the cremated remains of three people removed.

“Two sets of cremated remains have been retrieved and will be reinterred as soon as possible.”

Mr Horrocks spoke to the police on Saturday. A police spokesman said: “There has been damage to graves in the churchyard where ashes are kept — damage to gravestones and caskets. We have been trying to contact the person who first reported it to us and are investigating this.”

The church was closed in 2011 and is now in the care of the Manchester Diocese. The congregation meets at St Simon and St Jude’s School, where the school hall was converted for multiple use.