THOUSANDS of pounds worth of heating oil has been stolen from churches, homes and village halls.
Organised gangs are thought to have been behind thefts of more than £4,000 of oil from properties in Gwernaffield and Pantymwyn, Soughton Memorial Hall and churches in Gwernaffield, Cilcain, Nercwys and Rhydymwyn.
The attacks have taken place as temperatures have plunged, while prices for the heating source have soared.
The Rev Adrian Copping, who is responsible for the four churches targeted, said:
“We have had altogether five lots of heating oil stolen since last November.
“We have probably had more than £500 worth taken on each occasion.
“It is awful. None of the churches are cash rich and it is an added expense and burden.
“We are not the only ones being hit. There are quite a lot of community halls being hit and people living nearby these sites.”
The thefts resulted in several pre-Christmas services being cancelled.
The thieves also struck on the eve of a funeral in Cilcain, resulting in the service being hastily moved into the village chapel.
Mr Copping said he was likewise concerned about residents bearing the financial burden of the thefts and urged villagers to keep a look out for any suspicious activity.
Northop county councillor Marion Bateman said Soughton Memorial Hall had been targeted twice in six weeks.
He said: “It seems to be an organised group doing it. The last time it was during the terrible weather and we had to close the hall for a week.
“I do not think it is being done by local people.
“It is upsetting that people are doing this. It is such a vital resource for the community.”
The hall is used by a range of community organisations, including playgroups and charities. More than £1,500 worth of oil has been taken from the site.
Chairman Haydn Bateman, also a county councillor for Mold, said: “They are large amounts of oil that have been stolen and sold on.
“It is the expense of replacing the oil. It has cost us between £700 and £800 each time.”
He added: “It is not just something that can be carried off. People need vehicles.
“I would urge people to keep and eye out and report anything to police.”
Pantymwyn community councillor Ken Skates, who had been informed of thefts from properties in the Gwernaffield and Pantymwyn, said: “This is about as low as it gets.
“They’re preying on the vulnerable and social facilities and places of worship, which is extremely damaging to communities.
“I’m aware there is a problem throughout the UK with the price of oil increasing and the harsh weather.”
PC Darren Jones said police were investigating thefts from the hall and Holy Trinity Church, Gwernaffield, which took place at the end of January.
He said: “We are appealing for anyone with information or who might have been in the area at the time and noticed something unusual to come forward.”
Anybody with any information is urged to contact police on 101.