Police are treating as a hate crime the placing of two pigs’ heads at a disused Belfast church.

The heads were found at the double front doors of St Luke’s Church of Ireland in Northumberland Street near the West Belfast peace line. Racist slogans had been daubed on the heads.

Loyalist social media sites have in recent days carried inaccurate claims that the church – which is currently up for sale – is to be turned into a mosque.

Chief Inspector Gavin Kirkpatrick said: “Police received a report at around 10.30am this morning that two pigs’ heads with racially offensive language written on them were left outside a property at Northumberland Street. Officers are currently carrying out enquiries into this incident which must be condemned by all."

The Church of Ireland said reports claiming that the building had been sold to members of the Islamic community were wrong.

“It is completely untrue that St Luke's has been sold,” said a spokesperson. “Any sale would only take place after a process involving the select vestry, diocesan council and representative church body. The highly distasteful act which has taken place is profoundly saddening.”

Local Sinn Féin MLA Fra McCann described the incident as “sinister and disgusting”.

“This is a building that is used for community events and it would no doubt have been distressing to come across such a gruesome sight,” he said. “The fact that anti-Islamic slogans were written on the pigs’ heads makes this all the more sinister and disgusting."

DUP MLA William Humphrey said those behind the placing of the pigs’ heads at the church were not representative of the Shankill community.

“Those who have started and spread false rumours about the future of this church building bear a major part of the responsibility for what has occurred,” he said.

SDLP MLA Alex Attwood said: “Hate and intolerance should have no space in our community and those responsible should have no hiding place on our streets.”