AN historic religious statue depicting St Joseph cradling the baby Jesus has been saved and returned to nuns at a monastery by Inverclyde businessmen brothers Sandy and James Easdale.

The carved stone figure — which stood in a former chapel for nearly a century — has remained intact despite the ruined and fire-ravaged building having been repeatedly targeted by vandals.

The statue is now safely with the Sisters of the neighbouring Carmelite Monastery in Dumbarton as the Easdales proceed with a proposed £30 million housing development in the area.

Sandy Easdale, pictured with the artwork and the nuns, said he and his brother James were 'delighted' to reunite it with them, as had been promised at the outset of the regeneration venture.

Mr Easdale said: "Reuniting the statue with the Sisters at the Carmelite Monastery is a nice moment for everyone involved in the development project."

The former chapel fell out of use in the early 1990s and fell victim to arson attack in 1998 with its site and adjoining land of a disused primary school now allocated for housing by council planners.

Mr Easdale said: "The monastery sits immediately adjacent to the site and it is important for us that the Sisters are supportive of what we want to achieve.

"We've been in close contact with the monastery as things have moved forward and we were delighted to be able to carefully take St Joseph from the former chapel building and present it to the Sisters."

The McGill's Buses tycoon added: "The site has been in need of redevelopment since St Michael's Primary School was closed in 1998.

"It has been plagued by vandalism, regular fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour over that period which has distressed the Sisters on several occasions, particularly late at night.

"If planning permission is granted, the site will have a bright future with modern homes perfect for individuals, couples and families.

"There have been some inaccurate claims about our plans from a few local people but the church and the Sisters are very supportive of the development and believe it will be a real positive for the area and are looking forward to having neighbours close to the monastery."

Sister Theresa of the Carmelite Monastery: "We are thrilled with the safe return of the St Joseph.

"It was a well-known feature of the former chapel building and meant a lot to those who worshipped there.

"We're very grateful to Sandy and the project team for bringing it back to us and we'll now place it somewhere special at the monastery."

Sister Theresa added: "It was wonderful to speak to Sandy and hear the latest news about the site.

"Our monastery sits as the closest neighbours to the site and we all hope to see permission granted.

"Achieving a new future for the former primary and chapel grounds as a place for families to live would be lovely."