A BISHOP has admitted that a mistake made by the Wakefield Diocese could have cost the city some of its most precious artefacts.
Holy carvings called misericords were reported missing from the derelict St Peter’s Church in Stanley in March.
They are the only set of their kind in the world and are believed to be worth at least £2,000 each.
The Bishop of Pontefract, Rt Rev Tony Robinson, said he and his colleagues have no idea when the misericords disappeared.
But local campaigners have accused him of lying, saying they believe the misericords were sold by the diocese in October 2011 – something the bishop firmly denies.
He said: “It is a very serious accusation. I haven’t lied about anything. We have nothing to cover up.
“We are sad the misericords have gone and we need to learn lessons from that. We can keep going back over it, but we need to try our best to bring them all together and find a suitable home for them in this district.”
Rt Rev Robinson admitted a contractor had been let into the church and given permission to take ‘loose fittings’ on health and safety grounds, but was not supervised when the work was carried out, and had not had it specified to him what was meant by ‘loose fittings.’
Police carried out an investigation into a reported burglary.
And although no charges were ever brought, police confirmed a number of items had been taken under an agreement between the church and a contractor.
But the bishop said the diocese had taken ‘internal disciplinary action’ to ‘learn from the experience’ and maintained the misericords had not, and would not ever be sold.
In August the diocese confirmed to the Express that 14 of the misericords had been recovered. They said yesterday that was a mistake and only seven had been found.
Campaigners claim they too were told that 14 had been recovered at the time.
The church said one turned up on auction site ebay, and four were bought from an antique dealer by a lady in London.
Two others are under dispute after being entered into auction at Christies by an antique dealer who said he bought them in good faith.
Local historian George Parfitt is among those campaigning against the demolition of the church, which the diocese claims it spends £40,000 per year securing.
He and fellow campaigner Paul Dainton, of the Residents Against Toxic Scheme, are furious about the situation.
Mr Parfitt said: “They have made a monumental mistake and are trying to cover it up. The misericords were paid for by the people of Stanley and no decision should have been made about them without the community being involved. I can’t even begin to tell you how much sleep I’ve lost. These are people of the church who are supposed to represent the people.”
Fellow campaigner Paul Dainton, said: “Stanley has lost these priceless works of art due to utter neglect and comtempt. We have lost an international treasure. It would have been wonderful to have them in the Hepworth Gallery.”