The widow of a church organist who died after being brutally attacked on his way to midnight mass on Christmas Eve said she had been left "devastated" by his apparently "motiveless" death.

Grandfather Alan Greaves, 68, from Sheffield, was assaulted just yards from St Saviour's Church, in High Green, South Yorkshire, where he had also been a lay preacher for a number of years.

He was discovered by a member of the public and taken to hospital but died from his injuries on Thursday night. Police are treating his death as murder and said the motive for the attack is currently unclear.

Widow and church community worker Maureen Greaves, 63, told The Sun: "There was no motive. We are devastated. It is just not what you expect, somebody to walk down the street and get murdered - and at this time of year as well, it's just dreadful."

On Friday Canon Simon Bessant, from St Saviour's Church, described Mr Greaves as a "good man" who fell victim to an evil act. He said: "He was a gentle soul. He wasn't foolish - he would have handled the situation as best as anyone would but we don't know what he encountered."

Mr Bessant, who was at the church that night, said Mr Greaves' widow was not seeking vengeance but did want justice.

He said: "He never arrived, which we thought was strange. Sadly, he was attacked about 250 yards from the church. His family were all at home and the police contacted them at about midnight to say there has been an accident.

"I spent most of Christmas Day with him and the family. They have a strong faith but that doesn't mean you don't feel the difficulty. It was a hard vigil by his bedside, watching him struggle. His wife wants justice but she doesn't want vengeance. She is not embittered but obviously she wants this person to be caught."

Detective Superintendent Matt Fenwick, of South Yorkshire Police, said the motive was unknown and, based on the injuries he suffered, it was likely that a weapon was used. He said: "At 11pm on Christmas Eve Mr Greaves left his house and walked towards the nearby church where he performs as an organist. Between his house and that location he was subjected to the brutal attack. At 11.15pm a member of the public found Mr Greaves and called the emergency services.

"He was a family man and the family are devastated about what has taken place. I would like to appeal on their behalf and on my behalf for anyone who might have witnessed any part of this incident or anyone who has information that could assist this investigation to please contact us."