A MINIATURE Christmas tree was stolen from outside a Tiverton church while worshippers were inside preparing for the festive season.
Two 1ft-high yew trees complete with red bows and lights were placed either side of the entrance of the Bethel Pentecostal Church, in St Andrew Street.
Pastor's wife Chris Daw was inside the church taking part in a craft workshop with members of the congregation when one of the trees was stolen at around 9pm on Wednesday.
Mrs Daw turned detective and followed a trail of soil which led down to the nearby bridge over the River Lowman.
She said she saw two men hanging around the church entrance and after she shouted to them, they ran off in the direction of the town hall.
She said: "This is the first year we have put Christmas trees outside. We wanted to brighten up the appearance of the street, having put flowers outside throughout the summer."
She added: "I came outside and saw one of the trees was missing. I was carrying Christmas cards and I was so angry I dropped them because I was so surprised that anyone would steal a Christmas tree from outside the church."
The tree is valued at £50 and its theft has been reported to the police. Mrs Daw said she would be buying a replacement, but she was not sure whether to continue leaving them outside again.
She said: "The pots are quite heavy so I don't think anyone would have wanted to carry it too far. The police were brilliant when I contacted them but obviously they had more serious offences to deal with, so I followed the trail of the soil which led down to the bridge at the bottom of St Andrew Street."
Mrs Daw said she walked past two men and got a sense that something was "not quite right", so she loitered in the shadows and watched as the men approached the church and paused as if preparing to take the second tree. Mrs Daw shouted and the two men ran off in the direction of the town centre.
She said that because it was dark she had not seen the men clearly, but noted one was wearing a hoodie top.
She said: "Our idea was to have a nice year-round display outside the church to make the street look attractive.
"We are going to have a lot of disruption next year with work commencing on the McCarthy and Stone retirement homes complex, so we want to make the area look nice to cheer people up as well as making sure it is secure when people are coming and going from the building sight."
Mrs Daw said she was sad that the tree had been taken but the church was still gearing up for a big festive celebration.
Inside the church is a 10ft tree decorated with 900 coloured lights.
There will be a chance to see the tree in all its glory at a carol service at the church on Sunday at 6.30pm.