A VICAR says thieves won’t steal the spirit of Christmas, despite stealing more than 6,000 lights from a town’s tree.

Father Kevin O’Brien said he was looking forward to the official light switch on service at St John the Evangelist Church in Burgess Hill.

But on Friday last week he found thieves had hauled down the lights, which were paid for from donations by the church, residents and from P&S Gallagher funeral directors.

Fr O’Brien said: “They unwound the lights from the tree, and just pulled and pulled the lights until they snapped off. They were wrenched out.

“So now we have to restore the lights from scratch, as the control box was taken as well.

“This was something given to the town as a gesture by the church for the town, and was held in people’s affection. It is disappointing that people decide to dishonour that.”

He said the giant fir tree had become the town’s de-facto official Christmas decoration, standing in a prominent spot in the town centre.

It was first decorated in lights in 2014 because there had not been a tree in the town for several years.

So the church, which also runs the town’s foodbank, dementia cafe, and mental health sessions, stepped in to restore the festive spirit.

As many as 200 worshippers would join a carols service, and schoolchildren would be invited to countdown to the light switch on.

But Fr O’Brien said there have been problems with petty crime at the church, with yobs firing BB or air gun pellets at the stained glass windows and glass doors, causing damage.

He said in the first year, the fire brigade put up the lights, as it was a good opportunity for crews to train at height.

Now he said the community is facing a £1,000 cost to get new lights in time for Christmas, as well as ongoing costs of storing them, putting them up, and taking them down.

He added: “We are absolutely determined that the lights will be better than ever this year. This is a setback, but it is not a defeat.”

To support the church’s fundraising effort, visit: mydonate.bt.com/charities/stjohnschurch.