A MINISTER has said he would forgive the thieves who broke into his church.

Raiders smashed their way into Greenfield Road Methodist Church in Eastbourne, then broke into Rev Paul Tabraham's office and stole a safe containing church records.

Police believe at least two people would have been needed to lift the heavy green metal safe and said cupboards throughout the church were also ransacked.

Rev Tabraham said he thought the thieves probably targeted the church after the Sunday morning service in the hope of snatching the collection, but said he would still forgive their crime and welcome the perpetrators into the congregation with open arms.

He said: "Obviously, as a human being I feel really saddened. Some of our members of the church have been coming here for 50 to 70 years and a lot of people feel a lot of love for the church. It feels like their own home has been broken into.

"It makes me feel very sad that these people felt this was something they had to do to get money. But the church has to be forgiving.

"I just hope and pray they find some other way to make a living.

"As a church we have to be welcoming and loving and forgiving.

"If these people are found by the police I would like to meet them and talk to them and pray with them.

"I would welcome them back into the church."

The crime took place some time between Sunday lunchtime and Monday morning, and the thieves got away with a small amount of cash, leaving through a fire exit.

Mr Tabraham said they had caused some damage to the building - which is used by community groups and a nursery - but said the church sanctuary had been left untouched.

PC Tom Thorpe, of the Eastbourne Police neighbourhood response team, said: "The stolen safe would have needed at least two people to lift it.

"And given the damage caused inside the building it is likely a lot of noise would have been made. We'd like to know if any witnesses were about in the Greenfield Road area who may be able to help with our investigation."

Anyone with information is asked to email 101@sussex.pnn.police.uk or phone 101, quoting serial 122 of 25/04.