GRAFFITI vandals have targeted one of the oldest churches in the New Forest.

Phallic symbols and the Devil's number - 666 - were sprayed on doors and signs at St Peter's Church, Bramshaw, parts of which date from the 12th century.

The hooliganism has angered people living in the parish, where vandalism is relatively rare.

Members of the church have already removed the offensive symbols, which are thought to have been found by someone walking their dog.

It comes just weeks after the Countryside Alliance published a report highlighting the amount of crime which has taken place at churches over the past two years.

The figures, described by the organisation as “extremely distressing", were obtained from police forces across the UK using Freedom of Information requests.

A total of 20,168 crimes are reported to have taken place in or around places of worship since January 2017.

Countryside Alliance spokesman Mo Metcalf-Fisher said: “These figures paint a bleak picture.

"As a society, irrespective of faith, we need to be much more vigilant when it comes to watching over churches and places of worship by reporting suspicious activity.

“These figures serve as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote.”

The vicar of St Peter's, the Rev David Bacon, said: "We have had some minor stuff over the years but it hasn't been a persistent problem.

"Some kind people have removed the graffiti and hopefully we won't get a repeat.

"Churches in the countryside are vulnerable to this sort of thing. It happens every so often and then it tends to go away.

"Sadly it's just one of those things. At the moment it's not sufficient to cause concern - it's just annoying."

The Grade II-listed church, midway between the villages of Bramshaw and Nomansland, contains a memorial to a group of parishioners who died aboard the Titanic.

They were on their way to begin a new life in America when the luxury White Star liner hit an iceberg on April 2012 and sank with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.