The historic chapel where the Brontë sisters were baptised has been ‘desecrated’ by what is thought to be an organised gang of stone thieves.
Up to 30 metres of stone worth £500, including three grave stones, was stolen from the cemetery and Grade Two-listed Brontë Bell Chapel in the village of Thornton, near Bradford, West Yorkshire last week.
Reverend Patrick Brontë, father to writers Charlotte, Emily and Anne, preached at the chapel before the family moved to Howarth in in 1819. The Brontë sisters were born and christened there making it an important stop on the Brontë Way footpath.
The walk, which stretches from Oakwell Hall to Gawthorpe Hall near Burnley, is popular with tourists keen to see the landscape that inspired Wuthering Heights.
Locals have worked for 12 years voluntarily to restore the Brontë Bell Chapel to encourage visitors.
“We’re shocked that the church has been desecrated. Some of the graves date back 200 years. This has upset a lot of local people, it’s just awful,” Old Bell Chapel action group co-ordinator Steve Stanworth said.
“It must have been an organised gang because the weight of the stones is quite incredible.”
The grave slabs stolen measure six feet long by three foot wide and are six inches thick and would take four men to lift.
Police have launched an appeal but said today that they had “no positive lines of enquiry despite investigations”.
DI Mark Long of Airedale and North Bradford CID, said: "This is quite clearly a despicable act which will cause great offence in the local community.”
One of the stolen grave stones dated from 1790. Another marked the final resting place of John and Mary Pickles and the five children who died before them in the 1820s.
Another stone came from the plot of Hannah and James Abbott and their 28-year-old daughter Mary who died in 1828.
The action group noticed coping stones had been ripped from historic fabric of the chapel itself last Wednesday and returned to the site on Saturday to discover the further damage.
Officers are appealing for information about the thefts which took place between 9pm on Friday 19 October and 8am on Saturday 20 October.
"Any new leads to identify and catch those responsible will be followed up and information should be passed to the North Bradford Neighbourhood Policing Team on 101.”
"Anyone who has information can also contact CrimeStoppers anonymously and in confidence on 0800 555 111.”