DEVASTATED volunteers at Swindon’s Hindu Temple are desperately seeking a more secure and permanent home after suffering five break-ins in five months.

A Cheney Manor Industrial Estate building has acted as a place of worship and community events venue for the last five years. But the committee which manages it hopes to move out following the latest appalling burglary which they see as a hate crime.

The theft of thousands of pounds and the vandalism of a sacred altar shocked the Hindu community in Swindon, Wiltshire and globally.

Committee leader Pradeep Bhardwaj took the drastic decision to remove deities made of precious metals to a secret location in what he described as a “dark day for the Hindu community”, because he fears the burglars may return to steal them.

A 2019 ceremony instilled divine spirits into the religious idols to make them living deities, so hiding them away is an unusual step, but after agonising over the decision, the committee felt they had no other option.

Volunteers are sleeping on-site to protect the remaining marble deities from further harm while he pushes for the council to provide security until a better location for the temple can be found. A petition backing this idea has had nearly 25,000 signatures and a peace march will be held in Wharf Green at 11am on Sunday for those who want to show their support.

Pradeep said: “It’s disturbing not to see Lord Ganesha there. People will be angry they were removed but it’s better than the unthinkable situation of them being stolen, there was a big increase in risk. I’ve not been sleeping or eating properly after this hate crime. I was shocked, disappointed and angry. This place is unusable now.”

The first break-in happened on May 22, when criminals stole copper piping and a substation from the council-owned warehouse behind the temple which powers the building.

A second break-in had similar results, leaving the site without mains power to this day, and the third saw the burglars break a security door linking the warehouse to the temple.

The fourth time led to the loss of expensive equipment, including speakers worth thousands of pounds. The fifth happened two weeks ago and had unfortunate timing.

Normally, no cash is kept on the premises but thousands of pounds in donations were collected during a major cultural event which ended in the early hours. The trustees returned to find chaos, with every door, cabinet - and the box containing the money - broken open.

Sunny Patel suggested that the crime was racially-motivated. He added: “They ransacked the place but left the expensive amplifiers that were easy to take and decided to take sacred lamps, spill oil over the altar, kick a picture of Ganesh so hard it left a footprint, and threw the garlands on the floor.

“What other reason could there be for this vandalism that has caused the community such anguish?”

Thousands of people of all backgrounds have been helped by the temple team, which has hosted blood clinics, produced vaccine information videos and provided food to struggling families during lockdown.

Council leader Coun David Renard said: “It is absolutely appalling that criminals have repeatedly targeted the building in which the Hindu Temple is located, and now have entered the part occupied by the temple. I am incredibly saddened by this senseless attack on such a valued community within Swindon.

“The building the Temple Trust has been using was always a temporary arrangement and we have been in discussions with them for some time about finding them new premises.

“The recent break-ins to the large warehouse behind the part of the building occupied by the trust have accelerated that process because of vandalism and the theft of a significant amount of wiring within the building, which means it is not possible to provide power to the whole building.

“We are doing everything we possibly can to help the members of the trust and this includes finding them a new home.We are working closely with our partners at Wiltshire Police to ensure the building is secure and that we bring whoever is responsible to justice.”

A Wiltshire Police spokesman said: “We have increased patrols in the area and will be meeting with leaders from the Temple along with representatives from the council to discuss security measures.”