A vicar has branded the work of thieves who stripped metal from his new church roof just days before its £300,000 restoration was due to be completed as "desecration".

The Rev Richard Cowles, the vicar at St Mary's Church in Garsington, near Oxford, said he felt "sickened" by the theft of copper and lead from the church roof, particularly as most of the money raised to pay for it had come from the fundraising efforts of villagers.

He said he feared the church had been targeted for its metal because of a dramatic hike in the market value of copper and lead.

Thames Valley Police confirmed there has been an increase in the number of scrap metal thefts in the area recently.

The theft from the church is thought to have occurred between 11pm and midnight on Monday. Yesterday it emerged that on the same evening about 200 bronze plaques were stolen from the garden of remembrance at Oxford Crematorium in Bayswater Road.

Last night, Thames Valley Police spokesman Toby Shergold said officers were investigating a possible link between the incidents.

People living near to the church in Garsington reported hearing noises coming from there overnight between Monday and Tuesday.

Rev Cowles said: "When people deliberately damage it like this it does feel like desecration. I am very saddened people should do this."

He added: "We are hoping to carry on with the project still and finish it as planned, but obviously it won't be finished at the end of the month as it was supposed to.

"The church has been under scaffolding for about a year and work has been done on it for about six months, so it's a big project that's costing almost £300,000 in total.

"Much of the money has been raised by local people and through the efforts of our church community, which just makes this even worse. The church is a much-loved building in the village. It is more than 800 years old."

Insurers have been investigating the damage and the repair bill is expected to be £40,000 to £50,000.