Churches in west Dorset are increasingly being targeted by criminals.

There were 31 attacks on people and more than 200 crimes in total in places of worship in the county over the past three years.

Figures from Dorset Police reveal churches in and around the county are not only being targeted for their lead, of which there were 10 recorded cases, but that there were also over 97 general thefts in the past three years.

Churches in Dorset says it's been subjected to 91 counts of criminal damage since 2017. There are also 31 cases of violence against a person.

In March, thieves struck at the Church of St Andrew and St Peter in Toller Porcorum. Part of the crypt's ceiling was damaged when the church was targeted by a gang of thieves in a crime estimated to cost £60,000 to put right.

Villagers had to fundraise to cover the cost after sheets of lead were stolen from the village's medieval church.

Churches in Symondsbury, Powerstock and Thorncombe have also been targeted in the past.

The Countryside Alliance, which campaigns on rural issues, has compiled the data from across the country, into a report for its membership.

This includes 2,490 cases of violence, 4162 of criminal damage and 7,206 of thefts of which, 940 relate to lead theft. It works out at a rate of 19 crimes a day, nationwide.

Mo Metcalf- Fisher of the Countryside Alliance said: “These figures paint a bleak picture of criminal attacks on our churches and religious buildings in Dorset and across the country as a whole.

"As a society, irrespective of faith or none, we need to be much more vigilant when it comes to watching over churches and places of worship by reporting suspicious activity.

"It serves as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote.”

The Church of England's director of churches and cathedrals, Becky Clark, said: "While these things are undoubtedly very damaging, very harmful when they happen to individual communities, we're still looking at the majority of churches being safe places that are open to their communities.

"We're trying to work with the police on different initiatives to deal with some of the most widely presenting issues.

"However, fundamentally, churches are places where people should be able to come in all states, they should be able to come and feel safe. We want to make sure that those churches feel that they can stay open."