A STATUE of Christ has been torn from its crucifix and smashed only days before the Christian celebration of his birth.

The desecration of St George's Church, in South Moor, Stanley, County Dur-ham, has angered the congregation so close to Christmas.

It is so heavy that three parishioners are needed to carry it, but vandals have ripped the 5ft hollow bronze figure from its wooden cross.

The statue was found broken in two at the waist and dumped on the edge of the church grounds, where it is lying while police look for clues.

The Reverend John Simmons said: "My feeling is that the place has been desecrated and it is very, very sad, especially so close to Christmas.

"It is in front of a war memorial, but the people who did it will not care about that.

"This is South Moor and, unfortunately, things go on here which people cannot credit, but it happens.

"I do not know what their motives are. Some people have peculiar motives and this is an indictment of society.

"People have no respect for other people's property, but I cannot imagine why anyone would want to do this."

Mr Simmons said it will cost about £3,000 to replace the statue, and said he hoped police will be able to catch those responsible.

He said: "There must have been more than one because I cannot imagine one person carrying it, as it is too heavy.

"We have not moved it yet because of the police investigation, so we cannot fully tell what damage has been done.

"There are footprints and fingerprints around the site, so we are hoping they will give us some clues."

Jill Pattison, 22, the daughter of church warden Dennis Pattison, said: "A lot of older people go to the church and they will be very upset about this.

"Destroying things that others enjoy like this so close to Christmas is not right."

Police are investigating the vandalism, which is believed to have taken place between December 10 and 16.

Anyone with information is asked to call PC Mick Burns on 0845 60 60 365.