THE Holmfirth area is being plagued by graffiti vandals who are costing businesses hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The vandals have shown no respect to any buildings - including churches.

Business leaders believe the criminals are systematically wrecking Holmfirth.

Holmfirth and Scholes Methodist churches have been scrawled on by the offenders, who have also attacked homes, Holmfirth High School and the bus station.

Very few businesses in the centre of Holmfirth have not had their windows scratched.

Police have made three arrests.

The investigation continues, as police believe there could be a hard core of 15 to 20 youths who are responsible for the damage.

Some come into the town from other areas.

Of the three arrested one is from Lowerhouses and the other two are from Holmfirth.

They have been charged with criminal damage.

Community constable Pc John Clay said: "Graffiti is a massive problem in Holmfirth.

"We have warned youngsters that if they are caught with spray cans or marker pens they will be arrested for going equipped to commit criminal damage."

People have been urged to come forward with information.

One of the most distinctive pieces of graffiti was daubed on the side of the gym at Holmfirth High School.

It stated: "Freedom= Equality UYA."

The words "Fear is a weapon of mass destruction" were written on the back of the Co-op.

Many of the vandals also write their nickname, known as tags. Three used in Holmfirth are Bogus, Smeg and Skor.

"These people are making a terrible mess of Holmfirth and it is important we catch them," said Pc Clay.

Andrew Bray, president of Holmfirth Business Association, said: "About 90% of businesses have been attacked and many have had their windows etched.

"These cost thousands of pounds to replace and many now have not bothered, fearing they will be attacked again."

Mr Bray said his association ploughed a lot of money into a skateboard park, all-weather soccer pitch and swings at the Sands recreation ground about three years ago.

But he fears that may have triggered the problems, by attracting troublemakers to the area.

"We know it is only a few who are causing the problems," he said. "But they are spoiling it for the rest.

"The association is loth to put any more money into youth schemes at the moment."

The two Methodist churches were particularly badly hit a few weeks ago.

Graffiti - including the word "pro-abortion" - was daubed on Holmfirth Methodist Church.

The minister, the Rev Ron Hicks, said: "The church has been attacked four or five times in the last year. Graffiti has even been scratched on windows."

But he is mystified why "pro-abortion" should appear. "I've no idea why they used this word," he said. "Usually it is just shapes."

His wife, the Rev Diane Hicks, said her church, Scholes Methodist, had been targeted - possibly by the same vandals.

"Most recently they put graffiti on the main door, fire exit and windows," she said.

"We think that on the same night they also sprayed cars and the gable end of a house."

Phone Pc Clay on 01484 436827.