POLICE are stepping up their campaign against flagstone thieves after more than 20 flags were taken from a church graveyard.
Twelve graves were damaged when thieves broke into the grounds of St James' Church, Altham, and pulled up flags from the ground - causing a number of headstones to topple.
The thieves then carried the flags, which are worth around £400, through the graveyard and made off through an adjoining field.
The first incident happened between Thursday 26 June and Saturday 28 June and later that weekend thieves were disturbed trying to remove roofing tiles from the church entrance using a pick-axe.
The two incidents were part of a spate of flagstone thefts in Altham and Clayton-le-Moors over the past three weeks and police are now using "smart water" to mark the flags in the graveyard, making them easy to identify.
Churchwarden Clifford Hallworth said: "It is not the first time that this has happened, but it is pretty low to be stealing from graveyards. We're working with the police to see what steps can be taken to stop this. Something needs to be done."
More flags were stolen in three separate incidents in Clayton-le-Moors on Saturday, resulting in a police chase through Clayton Hall Drive and Woodland Drive.
A resident reported that thieves had taken 10 antique flagstones, worth around £100, from a public footpath close to woodland off Clayton Hall Drive, between 3pm and 6.30pm.
The three thieves returned to the area at around 10.45pm but ran away after being disturbed by police, who had been alerted by residents.
Officers recovered a red van containing 15 flagstones, valued at £150, and dog handlers and a police helicopter were mobilised to search for the offenders.
One man, Jason Gorton, 27, of Burnley, was arrested on suspicion of theft and he was bailed until 12 August pending further inquiries.
Police were also called to Tarn Avenue in Clayton-le-Moors on Saturday evening, after reports that a man and a woman, both in their early twenties, were stealing stones from a dry-stone wall between 7.30pm and 9.45pm.
The man was described as 5ft 6ins tall, with short cropped hair and wearing a grey top. The woman was around 5ft tall and wore a black top. They were driving a red Ford Escort, registration G449 VBK.
Sergeant Dave Reddin, of Great Harwood Police, said: "It seems to be big business in this area and we urge people to be vigilant and contact us if they see anything suspicious. If they do have valuable flagstones, they should keep them as secure as possible."
Anyone with information should contact Great Harwood Police on 353334.