A BRASS-NECKED thief stole a crucifix from a chapel in an early-morning raid.

Police are today on the trail of the raider who sneaked into an Airdrie church and nabbed the solid brass cross.

A prowler was spotted in the grounds of St Serf's RC Church and detectives believe he may be responsible for the theft.

The surge in this type of crime is being fuelled by rising metal prices and police have urged people across the country to be vigilant.

Members of the ­congregation were stunned to discover that the crucifix, which is made of highly polished brass, had been stolen by crooks who were desperate to cash in on its scrap metal value.

It was ripped off the alter of the historic chapel overnight from Monday into Tuesday, after having taken pride of place there for more than 50 years.

Detectives probing the theft are urging people to be vigilant if offered the brass ­crucifix at a bargain price.

Damage was caused to the church during the robbery.

PC Linda Wood, from the safer communities squad at Coatbridge Police Office, has ­appealed for witnesses to come forward.

She said: "St Serf's has been serving the Airdrie community for more than 50 years, the stolen item has had its place within the church throughout this time and holds great sentimental value.

"If you have been ­offered this item for sale, recognise the ­description of the male or have any information relating to this theft I would urge to contact us."

Police said a man was seen in the grounds of the church between 5.30am and 6am on Tuesday.

He is described as having dark hair and was wearing a green jacket and blue jeans.

A massive CCTV trawl is now under way in a bid to trace the man responsible.

Scrap dealers have been targeted by police in a bid to stop the increase in metal thefts.

Railways, church roofs, telecom cables and even war memorials have been targeted by thieves as the price of metals like copper, has increased.

The stolen cable, ­wiring and plaques are sold to scrap dealers who melt it down and sell it on.

Anyone with any information on the incident is asked to contact Police Scotland on 101.

rebecca.gray@ eveningtimes.co.uk