A FIRE broke out at a church last night causing "significant damage" in a suspected arson in which offenders fled the scene with valuable items.

They broke into Heaton Park Methodist Church shortly before the fire started by smashing a number of windows.

Police are investigating the incident after being contacted by the fire service shortly after 8pm.

It is believed that as the offenders were searching for valuable items to take, the fire started inside the church by currently unknown means before they fled the scene with a laptop and a projector.

Police say the fire caused significant damage to the building which will require expensive repairs.

A joint investigation is currently underway between GMP and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) to establish exactly how the fire started.

Chief Inspector Jamie Collins, of GMP’s Bury borough, said: “There’s no way to describe the offenders actions, other than to say they were disgusting.

“To break into a church, set a fire and then steal valuables would be bad enough any other time of the year but to do it a few days before Christmas, which is a time when many people turn to their church, is nothing short of disgusting.

“I know this incident will cause a lot of upset locally but I want to reassure the people of Bury that we are treating this as a priority and we are liaising closely with the GMFRS to establish exactly what has happened to cause the fire.

“However, we still need the public’s help to find those responsible. If you believe that you can help us find them then please contact the police as a matter of urgency. We simply cannot tolerate this kind of behaviour.”

The Sunday service at the church in Bury Old Road was cancelled this morning due to the incident.

Fire crews were called to reports of a fire at the Prestwich church at 7.30pm.

It caused damage to the prayer room but Whitefield Fire Station crew manager Martin Scholes said that, fortunately, the fire was contained in that room.

Three pumps attended, spending two hours at the scene to put the fire out.

The church announced on Facebook last night that today's service would be cancelled due to an "unforeseen incident".

People were invited to join the service at Prestwich Methodist Church in Chapel Street.

A spokesman for the church said: "If you have any questions please speak with the Minister, Rev Jez Hackett, contactable using 0161 621 0450. Sorry about any inconvenience."

Anybody with information should contact police on 0161 856 8172 or the independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.