GRAVEYARD robbers have stolen more than 100 paving stones leading to Sale's historic St Martin's Church.

The thieves first targeted the graveyard pathway on Sunday night and removed about 30 to 40 of the heavy York stones, before they made off when a neighbour spotted them and called the police.

But the brazen burglars returned in broad daylight, on Tuesday afternoon, cut through the locked gates and stole the rest of the path.

Rev Robert Clack, the vicar at the 704-year-old church, reckons many passers-by must have seen them digging up the stones, but assumed they were with workmen who are laying down electricity cables in the area.

The thieves escaped with their haul in a van, which is believed to have been stolen.

Stunned Rev Clack is appealing for anyone who spotted the thieves dismantling the path at Sale's oldest church to contact the police.

He said some of the stolen paving stones were 100-years-old. Others were put down a decade ago to replace stones taken during a previous attempt to steal the path.

Rev Clack said: "This is the community's burial place. I am deeply upset that something so sacred can be abused.

"I am sure people will have seen them and assumed they were laying down electricity cables. I would appeal to anyone who saw anything to contact the police."

The only paving stones the thieves left were those with inscriptions on them.

Insp Brendan O'Brien, from Sale police, said there are always instances of paving stone thieves at this time of year, and he called for people to be on their guard.

He said that if anyone is suspicious when they see someone digging up paving stones - because, for example, there are no company signs - they should call the police.

"We will check it out, and legitimate workmen are happy to be checked because they are glad to see us clamping down on cowboys."

Anyone with information about the theft should call Sale police on 0161 872 5050 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.