AN OXFORDSHIRE church 'harmed' its historical significance by ripping out its pews, a court has found.

The 14th century Our Lady of Bloxham Church near Banbury illegally removed the Victorian pews to make way for a children's play area seven years ago, damaging its interior.

It was taken to a Church of England consistory court because it should have had permission for the action.

Christopher Rogers, deputy chancellor of the diocese of Oxford, called the decision "highly unfortunate, to put it mildly".

Seven of the church's pews were taken out and stored in a way which made them deteriorate, according to the Victorian Society.

Mr Rogers found that the current vicar and leadership team were not in charge when the decision was taken and added that he had the 'greatest sympathy' in having to deal with the 'mess' left by their predecessors, according to the Telegraph newspaper.

Retrospective permission for the removal was granted but four of the pews must be returned to the church.

Mr Rogers said: "A degree of change and the removal of some pews was necessary in order to serve the wider community and to remain a sustainable place of worship".

The grade I listed church has been described as 'one of the grandest in the country' by historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner.