DAMAGE: Church warden Joan Harrison with metal that was prised from the ancient chest at St Mary’s Church
DAMAGE: Church warden Joan Harrison with metal that was prised from the ancient chest at St Mary’s Church

THIEVES made off with less than £50 after causing thousands of pounds worth of damage by breaking into a medieval church.
St Mary’s Church, in Staindrop, was burgled between 5pm and 9pm on Sunday, July 10. Criminals smashed a stained-glass window and damaged an ancient “treasure chest” along with a candle stand.
Church warden Joan Harrison was alerted to the crime by a couple who had become suspicious while walking past the church and peered through the vestry window to see it in disarray.
Mrs Harrison said: “We think they have got in through the stained-glass window.
“From what we have puzzled out they have come into the main church. We have surmised they used the legs of the flower stand to get into here [the chest] because there were flowers all over the floor.”
Church officers believe the criminals then dismantled an Easter candle holder and tried to use its legs to prise open the chest. In the process, the thieves broke off part of the chest’s iron casing as well as chunks of its ancient wood.
Being unable to open it, the thieves broke into the vestry.
Mrs Harrison said: “They couldn’t get into the safe but they pulled out all the drawers and scattered everything.”
The thieves are thought to have discovered a box of miscellaneous keys, one of which was used to unlock the chest, which is used to collect cash from visitors who buy a church guidebook.
Mrs Harrison said: “There couldn’t have been more than £50 in there because it had been emptied recently.”
The criminals then used another key to open a side door to leave the church. However, they left the door ajar but in a locked position, meaning that church officials can no longer close the door and have had to barricade it shut.
Mrs Harrison, who has been opening the church to visitors every morning for about seven years, said the church would remain shut until the parochial parish council decides what to do next.
She said: “This is what makes me sad because of all the people who have been in and left comments in the visitors’ book. A lot have been to Raby Castle and then come here because they know the tomb of Richard III’s mother is here. Richard III enthusiasts love it.
“That is what hurts me because of the pleasure people get from being here. Now I feel like I am shutting people out.”
Mrs Harrison complimented the police response to the crime and said a forensics officer had been out early the next morning.
Of the damage to the window, Mrs Harrison said: “It could be thousands [of pounds]. The stained-glass window was damaged a few years ago – I would think then it was three or four thousand [pounds], but I don’t know.”
Police confirmed they are investigating and anyone with information can email PC David Williamson at david.williamson@durham.police.uk