Thieves stealing handbags from Spen churches

Father Peter Smith of St Paul's Church, Dewsbury Road. Cleckheaton
Father Peter Smith of St Paul's Church, Dewsbury Road. Cleckheaton

A SHAMELESS thief stole an 82-year-old woman’s handbag from a Catholic church while she was receiving Holy Communion.

The man made off with the bag containing her purse, £40, cards and car keys during Mass on Monday at St Paul’s Church, Cleckheaton.

The theft is the third from churches in the past three weeks.

On May 22, a child’s PSP games console was stolen from Central Methodist Church, Mortimer Street, Cleckheaton, during a children’s entertainment show.

And an 80-year-old woman’s handbag was stolen from St James’s Church, Heckmondwike, on Tuesday while she was at a 90th birthday party. In the bag were keys, cash and cards.

St Paul’s parish priest Father Peter Smith said the man suspected of stealing the bag from his church had been in last Thursday, telling him he wanted to pray for his grandmother who had died.

He said: “I think he was sussing people out. He was in his mid 30s and wearing darkish clothing with a very distinctive canvas bag on his shoulder. He had an European accent. You know who’s in your church and you know when someone is new.

“On Tuesday he came back and he sat behind the lady. She had an idea that there was something funny about him.

“She was tempted to bring her bag with her while she came up for Communion but she thought she would give him the benefit of the doubt and put it under the chair.

“He waited until the people were coming to Communion so I couldn’t see him.

“She rushed back to her seat but he had gone. She knew her bag had gone, and he had gone too.

“She was shaken up but she’s okay now.

“These people are coming to a church building and they have no respect for anything. You think, wouldn’t it prick their conscience?”

Father Smith said people often came to church asking for money but the majority of requests were not genuine – and when they were turned down, the priests were met with a barrage of abuse.

He said: “People say, ‘you call yourself a Christian?’

“I will be telling people not to leave their bags unattended. It’s a sad situation today that people have to be aware in a church.

“You have to have a Christian attitude but that can only go so far.”

Sgt Ian Welch from Spen NPT said: “This is a despicable crime. It’s made even more despicable since it has been committed in a place of worship.”

Anyone with information should contact police on 01924 295357 or at www.westyorkshire.police.uk.