Gravestones dating back hundreds of years have been stolen from one of the most prominent churches in Leeds.
The two 18th century slabs, bearing inscriptions to those buried beneath them, were among several tons of stone taken from Leeds Minster this week.
CCTV cameras at a nearby company are thought to have recorded the thieves loading the slabs onto a truck before escaping.
After returning on Wednesday night, they were reportedly chased off by contractors.
The Rev Canon Charles Dobbin, interim priest, said: “The sad thing is that these gravestones belong to people and so the fact that they have been stolen affects families. It’s not just the theft of a bit of property – it’s intrusion upon family history.
“Ultimately it’s the community that loses out.”
The gravestones had been removed temporarily to protect them while work is carried out to redevelop two church buildings – St Peter’s Hall and St Peter’s House – as flats and offices.
They were stacked, along with a number of York stone slabs, close to the minster, on Kirkgate.
Rev Dobbin added: “Given that they go back so far, they are certainly part of the history of the city and a small record of the city’s past.”
The incident comes a month after calls were made by West Yorkshire MP Jason McCartney for a dedicated task force to tackle an “epidemic” in York stone theft.
West Yorkshire Police recorded 736 incidents between March 2014 and February this year – 18 per cent more than the 623 in the previous 12 months.
Leeds City Council replaced £50,000 of York stone stolen from pavements during the same period – an increase of more than 50 per cent year on year.