DRUG-SMOKING yobs have vandalised an 13th century church including desecrating the altar.

Essex Police has launched an investigation after four young men were found in St Mary’s Church, in Church Hill, Lawford, which had been trashed.

The Rev Simon Heron, who is the vicar of the St Mary the Virgin Church, said: “A church warden went to the church early on Saturday afternoon and found four lads in there who were smoking dope.

“Various Bibles and other books were torn and thrown round the church, the organ was forced open, banners were destroyed and the altar table desecrated.

“A boy was sitting on a 12 feet high window sill at the far end of the church.

“Just before running away they claimed apparently there were some other boys in the church before them who did all of this.”

Mr Heron said the police came and took evidence including fingerprints from vaping gear and pictures of footprints left on the altar cloth.

He added the police’s scenes of crime officer has also taken cigarette butts as well as pictures which had been taken of the four young men and their bikes as they were leaving.

Mr Heron said the historic church would now be closed outside school hours.

He said: “I feel disappointed and sad.

“The church was usually left open as lots of people like to use it to pray or meditate.

“It’s really sad we can’t leave it open, it’s a disappointment and a real shame.”

He added: “God is all about forgiveness and if God teaches us to forgive, we will forgive those who did this.”

The vicar added if the culprits would apologise and make restitution for the damage they’ve caused, they would forget it happened.

The oldest fabric in the church is in the south wall of the nave which dates back to the 1200s.

Anyone with information should call Essex Police on 101 or report anonymously to the Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.