RESIDENTS of a sleepy Cheshire village were left stunned when a former church was raided for drugs.

Police swooped on the old Utkinton Methodist Church – which is being converted into a house – before 7am last Thursday and seized several cannabis plants.

The property in Quarry Bank was empty when Merseyside officers discovered the plants and no arrests were made at the scene.

However, the following day a 55-year-old man from Halewood, Liverpool, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to produce cannabis. He has been released on bail pending further enquiries.

A shocked neighbour told The Chronicle: “You don’t expect it here, nothing ever happens. Builders have been doing up that chapel for years.”

Another resident contacted us to say: “I don’t know what’s happened. There’s a big van and a small van or police car. Five or six blokes are there coming out with buckets.”

Merseyside Police spokeswoman Donna Daber said: “We executed a warrant under the Misuse of Drugs Act at Utkinton Methodist Church, Quarry Bank.

“We have recovered a number of what we believe to be cannabis plants.”

The church, which was not a listed building, closed its doors more than 10 years ago.

In 2002 an application was granted to change the use of the building from a chapel to a house.

A new owner started building work to transform the church into a four-bedroom property in 2008.

Neighbours say work has been ongoing at the property for years but the owner has not been living there. One resident said: “It’s always locked up.”

Gary Porter