BURGLARS stole thousands of pounds and vandalised a sacred altar while breaking into the Swindon Hindu Temple.

Shocked staff noticed the aftermath of the crime over the weekend - all the doors are broken, many rooms have been vandalised, thousands of pounds in cash and other expensive items have been stolen.

The main altar with statues of deities has been desecrated. Police have gathered evidence and investigated the scene of the crime and are appealing for witnesses.

This is the fifth time the temple in Cheney Manor has been broken into.

Chairman Pradeep Bhardwaj reported the break-in to the police and borough council, asking for immediate 24/7 security to be put in place.

He said: "It is with great regret that I have to inform you about a major incident that happened yesterday at Swindon Hindu Temple, affecting more than 10,000 people in Swindon and thousands more in the region.

"They have entered the main altar of the temple where the deities are placed, and vandalised that area - this is a highly sanctified and consecrated space where only priests are allowed to enter.

"This is a matter of great concern and of utmost sensitivity for all Hindus, not just in Swindon and in the UK but globally.

"We fully understand that this matter is extremely sensitive, as it affects the religious sentiments of thousands of people in the region who use this temple as their main/only place of worship.

"This is the only Hindu Temple in this entire area and since it had been closed for most part of the last 18 months, the community was very eagerly looking forward to resume their normal activities, specially since the main Hindu festival period has just started.

"Swindon Hindu Temple is also well known right across the country for its progressive and inclusive outlook and its utmost emphasis on charitable work in the society."

A Wiltshire Police spokesman said: “Our enquiries are ongoing following a break-in at the Swindon Hindu Temple on Darby Close.

“Officers were called to the location on Saturday morning following a burglary which is believed to have happened the night before.

“After gaining access to the building, the offender(s) have stolen a number of collection boxes.

“We would ask anyone with information to contact us on 101.”