A Northumberland priest has vowed to keep church doors open despite being hit by a "distressing" act of theft and vandalism.

On Sunday, a small number of hymn books were taken from inside Holy Trinity Church, in Embleton, and later found burnt in the grounds of the nearby cricket club.

Reverend Alison Hardy, priest in charge of the Northumberland church, said it was a "shock" to learn the missing books had been set on fire.

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But she said she wanted to use the "sad" event as an opportunity to remind people of the importance of open churches - and urge them to respect the sacred spaces.

She said: "Having experienced an act of theft and vandalism we remain committed as a church community to keeping our building open.

"I'd ask people to appreciate churches for what they are and respect them as a community asset.

"It's a great benefit to have these sometimes historic and important buildings open and available to people.

"The opportunity to come into a church and enjoy the peace and quiet, to take the opportunity to pray or reflect, to light a candle for a loved one, is so important.

"It would be such a shame if churches had to close because of the fear of theft or vandalism, which, certainly in my rural patch is very rare, so when it happened it was a shock."

"It is just sad because of the lack of respect really," she added.

After the remains of the books were discovered by a cricket club member, a post on the church Facebook page read: "Shame on whoever stole hymn books from church and set fire to them by the cricket pavilion.

"We believe the church should be open for all, it's for everyone from our village and beyond to enjoy as a place of peace and prayer. The lack of respect for property and place is distressing."

Rev Hardy said the post had received a supportive response from the church congregation, which only strengthened her resolve to ensure the church remained freely available to the locals and tourists who value it so much.

A Northumbria Police spokesperson said: “An investigation has been launched after a number of hymn books were stolen from Holy Trinity Church in Embleton on Sunday afternoon (October 24).

“The books were later found at the nearby cricket club having been damaged and burnt. This type of behaviour is totally unacceptable and the Alnwick neighbourhood policing team are carrying out a range of enquiries to identify those responsible.

“Anyone with information can contact us via the ‘Tell Us Something’ page of our website or by calling 101 quoting log NP-20211025-0435.”

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