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EDITIONS
 Saturday, 4 January, 2003, 15:22 GMT
Prayers said at damaged abbey
Frieze at Waltham Abbey
An ornate frieze was badly damaged by the attacker
Prayers have been said at Waltham Abbey for the "tortured soul" of an axeman who caused extensive damage in the historic church.

Services will go ahead as normal over the weekend, but without the accompaniment of the organ which was smashed.

Two people were injured in the attack in Essex on Friday.

Canon Martin Webster, vicar of the abbey, said: "From members of the congregation there is a sense that this is a tortured soul for whom we have prayed."

Canon Martin Webster
Canon Webster said the axeman "ran amok"
Mr Webster will lead services on Sunday when he expects more than the usual 200 worshippers to turn up to pray.

Vicars, vergers and wardens at Waltham held a crisis meeting on Friday night to assess the damage while volunteers helped clean up - but it will be days before repair work can be organised.

Mr Webster said: "The abbey is full of people sitting and praying, some are looking on bewildered. Others are visibly upset.

"People have been coming in and saying that they could not sleep last night. They feel that it was not just an attack on the fabric of an abbey but also an attack on their lives, their values and their beliefs.

"We have cleaned the major mess in the sanctuary and lit some candles. It is an important symbol that we continue to do our work."

Loss adjustors have already visited the church to survey the shattered stained glass window depicting a nativity scene, a broken 17th Century wooden pulpit, a dented lectern and, most importantly, a smashed Victorian frieze behind the altar.

The damage has already been estimated at 200,000.

'Day of prayer'

Essex Police have been given a further 12 hours to question a 47-year-old man who was arrested in the abbey on suspicion of criminal damage and assault.

A 62-year-old man was taken to hospital with serious lacerations after the attacker - armed with two small axes or hatchets - started his rampage in Waltham Cross.

Damage to stained glass windows
Historic stained glass windows were smashed

He then burst into the church in nearby Waltham Abbey.

Another man, 53, was treated at the scene by paramedics for a head injury.

Vicky Webster, the vicar's wife, said: "There has been such a feeling in the community that we think a lot of people will want to come and see, and pray together.

"The church will be open today as usual, although it is a special day of prayer.

"There is nothing unsafe - unsightly maybe, but not unsafe."

Officers were first alerted to reports of an attack in Highbridge Street, Waltham Cross, at about 1330 GMT on Friday.

Several cars were damaged between the street and the town's abbey - reputed to be the burial spot of King Harold.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"The church community here is shocked"
  Vicar of Waltham Abbey, Martin Webster
"We're thankful that there were not more injured"
  Eyewitness Tanya Jones
"It's a lovely town, you'd never think anything like this would happen"

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03 Jan 03 | England
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