Arsonist targets four churches

An arsonist with a grudge is thought to be responsible for fires which severely damaged four isolated churches in Devon within an hour of each other on Saturday night and early yesterday morning.

Detectives confirmed yesterday that there have been eight arson attacks on churches in the area within the last month, one of which took place on Friday night. The fires are thought to be the work of the same person and have caused approximately pounds 50,000 worth of damage.

In each case fires have been lit on the church altars. "I have never known anything like this to the extent that a particular part of the church had been targeted," said Detective Sergeant Geoff Hawes, who is investigating the attacks.

The latest spate of fires started at St Nicholas' Church in Dunkeswell, near Honiton, at 11pm on Saturday. An intruder broke in through a locked window to start a fire which caused serious damage and ruined two 200- year-old zinc tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer.

Within 40 minutes another fire had started in the same village in Wolfold chapel. Twenty minutes later a third fire started in St Mary's church in the nearby village of Luppitt. Another fire was also started at St James' church in the village of Sheldon.

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