THIEVES have ‘desecrated’ a quiet Burnley graveyard for the second time in a year after driving off with a haul of valuable stoneworks from burial plots.

Intruders at Haggate Baptist Church’s cemetery escaped with pieces of York stone, laid over vaults at the Nelson Road site.

The grave robbers had even laid another 12 stones beside headstones, ready to be carted away.

Police have branded the thefts as ‘despicable’ and a leading Burnley historian has condemned the graveyard’s ‘desecration’.

The flagstones were taken, police believe, some time between Bank Holiday Monday and noon, on Wednesday, when the theft was discovered.

Stone thieves have also struck recently at homes in Bacup, Colne, Foulridge, Waterfoot and Haslingden.

Church elder Michael Green said: “We just hope that police can track down who is responsible for this atrocious crime.”

He told the Telegraph it appeared seven graves had been targeted - but it was difficult to determine how many flags had been taken.

Police community support officer Rachel Lonsdale added: “This is a despicable crime which also sadly happened in August last year.

“The flags are what lay on the top of the vault and will be recognisable as they will have remains of the green decorative stones on, they vary in size but generally about three foot by two foot.”

“There were also 12 flags left stacked at the scene which we believe the offenders may have also attempted to steal.

“The offenders would likely have needed a vehicle so I would appeal to anybody that saw a vehicle or anyone in the area acting suspiciously to contact police.”

Coun Roger Frost, who represents Briercliffe ward on Burnley Council, said: “This is just desecration of people’s graves.

“It is such a big graveyard, very open and it can be quite dark there. These thieves must have had vehicles because they are quite heavy.

“But I had a similar piece of stone stolen a few months ago and I know that it can be quite expensive, because mine was worth around £250.”

Stone flags were taken in similar circumstances at the graveyard in August 2012.

The church has been part of the Briercliffe landscape for more than 250 years. The original chapel, where the graveyard remains, was pulled down in 2001 as it had become unsafe and the congregation now worships in the former Haggate Sunday School nearby.

If anyone has any details about either the 2012 or 2013 raids they can contact Lancashire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers, in confidence on 0800 555 111.