THE family of a pitman who died at work more than 40 years ago say heartless thieves who stole a commemorative miner’s lamp have “walked all over his memory”.
Phillip Brown died of a heart attack when he was finishing his shift at Wheatley Hill pit in 1968.
His miner’s lamp was donated to All Saints Church, in the village’s Church Street, in his memory.
But the treasured memento was among a haul of sacred items stolen from the church in a despicable raid by suspected scrap thieves.
Eleanor Carr, 66, who is Mr Brown’s niece and a member of the church’s parochial council, said: “I just feel sick, it’s heart-breaking.
“They have just walked all over his memory.
“The lamp has been there for so long.
“My uncle had a heart attack as he was coming out of the pit. My Aunt Lizzie had donated it, what are his family going to think?”
Police say a similar lamp on ebay would only cost between £80 and £100.
Raiders also stole 34 pipes from the 90-year-old church organ, which had been given to the church to honour the memory of all the Wheatley Hill people who lost their lives in the 1914-1918 war.
Church warden Diane Metcalfe said: “Whoever did this has desecrated the memory of those who gave their lives for us.”
Also among the haul was a silver vase given in memory of a serviceman who died in the First World War, a bell donated in memory of villager Dora Howe, a candelabra, a pewter candlestick stolen from the altar, a bible stand and an incense bearer and holder set which had been at the church for more than 60 years.
The thieves, who broke a window to get in, also stole a baptism jug, two silver chalices and a gold-coloured communion wafer-holder given in memory of a villager.
They also took a piece of lead from the roof, the battery from the church’s audio system and a boiler.
Mrs Metcalfe, 69, who has been churchwarden for 11 years and lives in the village’s Quetlaw Road, discovered the burglary around 7.20pm on Wednesday after being alerted by a member of the local camera club which uses the church.
Reverend Roger Davies, of the church, said: “We are absolutely devastated.
“They have defiled the church.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Det Sgt Cliff Down at Peterlee Police Station on 0345 6060365 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.