TWO men have been arrested on suspicion of stealing valuable roof tiles from an 800-year-old church near Trowbridge which had already been hit twice in the previous 16 days.

Police were called to the St Mary the Virgin church at Whaddon in the early hours of Friday, July 29, after nearby residents had reported hearing noises and seeing a light on at the church.

The arrests of a 23-year-old and 22-year-old, both from Melksham, were made at 3.15am at the building, and the duo were due to answer bail this week.

The church had previously had its porch and a swathe of its roof stripped in two separate incidents on the nights of Wednesday, July 13, and Monday, July 18. A significant number of the Cotswold stone tiles, which can cost up to £1,800 per tonne, were taken.

After the raid on July 18, some tiles had been left behind and were spotted the following morning by 85-year-old churchwarden David Tucker.

“They were all stacked-up on the ground and ready to go, so we put them back in the church,” said Mr Tucker, who lives at Whaddon Grove Farm, on whose land the church rests.

On this occasion, the robbers had placed tiles on the surrounding church wall having been unable to enter via the gates. Though normally left open, they had been chained following the previous thefts.

Jane Austen’s uncle was once vicar of the listed building and is buried inside the church. Reverend Cooper passed away 10 years after his wife died from a fever and is interred alongside her.

Mr Tucker has been warden for nearly 50 years and has never seen the church vandalised before. It is still used for holy communion on the second Sunday of every month, and is a popular picnic spot.

Only four days before the first robbery, Mr Tucker’s granddaughter Hannah Louise, 26, was married there before 60 guests. Getting hitched at the church is a Tucker family tradition which three of the four children of David and Barbara Tucker have observed, including the mother of the bride on Saturday, July 9.

Police are now investigating the possibility that the two suspects, having apparently told police they were ‘repairing’ the roof, may be responsible for a number of other similar crimes in the area.