THIEVES have been targeting the collection box of an 18th century Portland church.

Bank notes have been stolen from inside the sealed donation box of the St George’s Church, Reforne, on a number of occasions with three such incidents reported to Dorset Police last month.

The culprits appear to be watching the church for an opportune moment when nobody is on duty and using a device to retrieve the money from inside the box.

Church volunteer Iris Sargent said: “This is not very Christian and some people don’t care that it is a church, just because it is an old church it is still a church. Now the church has been broken into and the box has been jimmied which is going to cost more money.

“If anyone sees anybody hanging around the church and just watching, not visiting a grave or visiting the church please let the police know.”

Built in 1766, the Grade I listed building, is the masterwork of local mason Thomas Gilbert whose grandfather supplied the Portland Stone used to build St Paul’s Cathedral.

Following its restoration in 1960s it has been maintained by The Churches Conservation Trust.

Matt Hart, operations manager for the trust, said: “The damage to the donation box and church door will cost the trust a significant amount of money to repair.

“St George’s Church is opened daily by a team of dedicated local volunteers who welcome visitors and offer free tours of the Portland landmark.

“Churches are public buildings designed to serve the local communities they’re in, they need be used and enjoyed.”

A spokesman for Dorset Police said: “There have been three reports of thefts from the donation box of St Georges Church. There was no forced entry into the box and it appears something sticky was used to retrieve the notes as no loose change has been taken.”

If anyone has any information they should contact Dorset Police quoting incident number 12:118