FOOTAGE of a prolific church thief has been released as part of a renewed attempt to find him.

The CCTV footage, at St Andrew's Church, Abberton, features a man trying to smash open a safe with a hammer and stealing religious artefacts.

More than a dozen churches in north Essex were raided in February and March.

During the theft he takes a statuette of the Christ Child with the Virgin Mary and a bronze ship’s bell with the letters SMI engraved on it.

Similar thefts have been carried out over the past month at churches in Stow Maries, Wickham Bishops, Goldhanger, Purleigh and Stock.

Other thefts were also reported in Lexden, Shrub End, Stanway and Copford.

Extra police patrols are being carried out around areas with small rural churches and members of the public are urged to call 999 if they see any suspicious activity around churches.

Anyone who can identify the man in the CCTV footage should contact the investigating officer PC Shaun Hammond on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

Also call in if you have any information about any church items being offered for sale in suspicious circumstances.