VANDALS have attacked an ancient lectern in a Dorchester town centre church.

The Reverend Vicky Thurtell has hit out at the ‘pointless act of vandalism’ that saw the eagle lectern at the front of St Peter’s Church damaged in an apparently deliberate act.

She has vowed that the crime will not deter the church from keeping its doors open to the public but added that security will be reviewed in light of the offence.

The damage was discovered by churchwarden Brian Hellin as he set up for a service last Thursday morning and he said it could have happened any time between then and the previous Sunday.

He said the eagle was at least 150 years old with records of the lectern dating back to 1856.

Mr Hellin said it appeared the beak and claws of the wooden bird had been hacked at deliberately with a saw or some other tool as there was sawdust on the floor beneath it.

The Rev Thurtell added: “The damage to the eagle lectern is a pointless act of vandalism but does not deter us from keeping this ancient and holy place – the Anglican Church in the county town centre – available for the whole community and all who visit from home and abroad (thousands per year) both for its heritage and as a place of worship and prayer. The churchwardens are working with the police on this matter and we will be reviewing security systems.”

Mr Hellin said he had been in contact with antique restorers about fixing the lectern but admitted it was likely to be a costly repair job.

He added that when a thorough search of the church was carried out following the discovery of the damage, a handbag was found that police told him was stolen in Bridport some weeks earlier.

It is not the first time the lectern has been damaged, many years ago a vagrant removed a wooden St Matthew, but it was eventually restored.

Inspector Steve Marsh of Dorchester Police is urging anyone with knowledge of the latest act of vandalism to get in touch.

He said: “The lectern in the shape of an eagle has been damaged in several places, with the suspect probably using a knife or saw.

“Unfortunately the offence could have happened over a number of days but we would be keen to hear from anybody who may have seen anything suspicious.”

Witnesses or anyone with information are asked to contact Dorchester Police Station on 101.