A VICAR and churchwarden have turned detective in a bid to track down those responsible for the latest theft of stone flags from a graveyard.

The Reverend Brunel James, vicar of Whitechapel Church in Cleckheaton, along with churchwarden Adam O’Neill gave chase when they spotted someone acting suspiciously outside the church.

They had been called to the Whitechapel Lane church on Friday afternoon shortly after 15 stone flags were stolen from a prominent path through the graveyard.

A parent on the school-run at nearby Whitechapel Primary School had alerted Rev James after they saw two men making off with the heavy flags in a car.

Rev James told the Telegraph & Argus: “I was at the church with the two churchwardens when we saw a youth on a scooter who seemed to be acting suspiciously.

“He drove off towards Scholes so we followed him in the car and caught up with him to try and speak to him, but a friend of his turned up and they drove off. “We were able to give a registration number to the police and a description.”

Rev James described the theft as particularly brazen as it occurred around 3pm in broad daylight.

“It’s just very frustrating because the amount of trouble it causes to us is out of all proportion to their gain,” he added.

“We’ve had to close the path off due to the uneven surface and it is normally a well used path, both by mums going to the nearby school and by the local community as it is a wildlife area.”

He added that this was the third such theft in the last seven years, so they were looking at taking measures to prevent further stone thefts in the future.

“We are considering marking our stone flags with a cross to make them less attractive to those wanting to steal them. The latest theft has actually been a positive talking point and people have said why don’t you mark them in some way. We thought using a stone cutting saw and marking them with a cross might be a deterrent.”

Churchwarden Philip Hardill described how similar thefts had taken place at the church in 2014 and 2010, but on those occasions many more flags had been taken in overnight raids.

He said that as a result the original stone flags had been completely replaced with similar newer flags, and it was these that the thieves had stolen this time.

To replace the whole path previously had cost around £5,000, he added.

A police spokesman confirmed: “Police received a report at 4.20pm on Friday, 8 September, of the theft of a number of stone flags from a path at Whitechapel Church, Whitechapel Road, Cleckheaton, earlier that afternoon.

“The theft itself is believed to have occurred shortly before 3pm. Enquiries are ongoing.”

The church, which dates back to 1820, is home to the grave of a member of the Bronte family - Rose Ann Heslip, who was the niece of Patrick Bronte - father of writers Anne, Charlotte and Emily.