'Religious hate crime' at Hitchin church damages cherished First World War memorial – and Letchworth targeted too
PUBLISHED: 09:30 27 August 2015 | UPDATED: 09:52 27 August 2015
A stained glass memorial to the fallen of the First World War has been badly damaged in what police are describing as a religiously aggravated act.
There were two separate attacks on Hitchin’s historic St Mary’s Church on Tuesday, with more than £10,000 worth of damage caused to window panels.
Police are linking the incidents – the first at around 2.10pm and the second just before 9pm – with another attack at St Paul’s Church, in Pixmore Way, Letchworth, just after 12 noon on the same day.
A spokesman said: “We believe the same person may be responsible for the first incident in Hitchin and the Letchworth offence.
“The suspect is a white man of stocky build with short dark hair. He may have been on a bicycle.
“Immediately after the second incident in Hitchin a witness saw two people running from the scene but was unable to give a further description.”
Sgt Stephen Oliphant, who is investigating, said: “We’re following a line of enquiry that the attacks are religiously aggravated, and they’re also being treated as a heritage crime.
“We’re linking the first incident in Hitchin, and the one in Letchworth – and we’re not ruling out linking the second one in Hitchin.
“We’re reviewing CCTV footage, and are determined we’ll catch the person or people responsible.”
The damaged stained glass panels were part of a memorial dedicated to those who gave their lives fighting for freedom during the First World War, while a separate panel portraying Jesus Christ was also smashed.
Team rector, the Rev Michael Roden, said: “I’m sure when people hear about this act they will feel very upset.
“St Mary’s is a symbol of the beauty, peace and unity of our community. It’s also a place of prayer and hope in good times, and bad.
“This is a setback, but we’re determined to keep this building open for everyone – and we’ve had tremendous public support.
“We ask the public to keep vigilant. If anyone has any information please let the police know.
“Nothing is going to deter us from our calling to be a warm, open and thoughtful church serving a great community.
“I’m afraid restoration work on the will cost more than £10,000.
“The people responsible also very accurately threw a brick through a separate stained glass panel of Jesus’ head.”
First World War expert Dan Hill, the co-ordinator of community project Herts at War, said: “It was very saddening to hear. I hope the people responsible for this act didn’t disrespect all those who laid down their lives for freedom on purpose.”
Pam Skeggs of Hitchin Historical Society added: “I’m very shocked and disappointed to hear about this.”While in Letchworth, Rev Simon Moore – who is the vicar of St Paul’s – remained resolutely positive despite the damage to his church.
“Gloriously we had about 15 people from our congregation who pitched together and cleaned up the mess in about two or three hours,” he said.
“They are plain windows, but they are still bespoke and will be difficult to replace.
“But we are remaining positive here at the church. Of course it is very sad that this has happened, but it is great so many people have asked to help.
“What is clear is that the person who did this was upset, and not well.
“I think we had another incident of smashed windows, but it was more than 10 years ago so we do not have a history of vandalism here at the church.
“The church is a building and these things do happen, but I hope the police catch whoever did it.”