A MAN was due in court today after an alleged arson attack at a Hampshire church.

Parishioners discovered extensive smoke damage to the inside of St Bartholomew's Church in King Alfred Place, Hyde, Winchester, when they arrived for services yesterday morning.

The church has been forced to close because of the fire, but bosses today said Christmas services would go ahead unaffected in the nearby church hall.

Police have charged Andrew Richardson, aged 18, of no fixed abode, with arson, burglary and criminal damage in relation to the incident, and also a break in at St Peter's Church in Jewry Street, Winchester, in the early hours of Sunday.

The Rector of St Bartholomew's, The Revd Cliff Bannister said today a huge community effort means services will go ahead.

He said: "It's heartbreaking to see the damage which has been caused by the fire, especially so close to Christmas, which is one of our busiest times of the year.

"But the Hyde community is wonderfully supportive, and church members have pitched in to make sure the Hall is ready for the services to go ahead.

"Christmas is a time of hope though, and as Christians celebrates the light of Christ's birth emerging from the darkness, despite our initial dismay, we've seen an amazing response as people have come together to make sure everything is in shape. "

"And after all, God didn't cancel the first Christmas when things got tough, so we're pressing on too."

The reverend also paid tribute to the authorities and emergency services who have helped St Bartholomew's in the aftermath of the break in and fire.

He said: "The police have been fantastic throughout all this. They deserve huge praise and thanks.

The extent of the damage to St Bartholomew's is still being assessed, but significant smoke and soot blackening is visible.

"We've suddenly discovered hundreds of cobwebs we never knew were there, because they're now covered in soot.”

Richardson was due to appear before magistrates in Basingstoke today.