MEMBERS of what is believed to be the most prolific church
lead-theft gang in Britain were each sentenced to four years in
prison, on Thursday of last week, after they left the Church of
England with a £1-million repair bill across three counties (News,
The gang, based in Lincoln, struck at 20 churches across the
East Midlands, and were caught only after police stopped a vehicle
on the A46, near Lincoln, which was laden with stolen lead.
An investigation led to the arrests of six men after they were
linked to the offences through sales of stolen metal to recycling
yards. Some of the metal had traces of SmartWater, which allowed
officers to identify the lead.
The gang, all from Lithuania, netted almost £70,000 from selling
the stolen lead during a nine-month period last year.
Stephen Lowne, prosecuting, told Lincoln Crown Court that,
although the majority of the churches targeted by the gang were in
Lincolnshire, others in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire were
also raided. "In some cases," Mr Lowne said, "it was some time
before the thefts were discovered, allowing the ingress of
rainwater. Extensive infrastructure damage was caused to some of
He told the court that the crime became so prevalent that the
Ecclesiastical Insurance Group restricted claims to £5000 per
church, and allowed only one claim per year.
Andrius Cereska, Audrius Kvedaras, and Tadas Andruska
(pictured above, left to right), admitted conspiring to
steal lead belonging to the the Church of England between January
and September 2011, and were each sentenced to four years.
Vidas Andruska (above, far right) was found guilty of
the same charge after a trial, and was jailed for seven years.
Vitalijus Vilkys (not pictured) admitted handling stolen lead, and
was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, suspended for two years,
and 180 hours community punishment. Nerijus Razma was sentenced to
Judge Michael Heath told the men: "The overall costs to the 20
churches, I am told, is in the region of £1 million. It is a great
deal of money. It is very important, and should not be
underestimated, the distress felt by Christians at the desescration
of their sacred places of divine worship.
"You lot could not care less about those feelings. All you were
interested in was stealing lead, weighing it in, and making
Det. Insp. Keith Blakey, of Lincolnshire Police, said: "The
convictions and jail terms represented the biggest success in the
fight against heritage crime in Britain to date. . . Since the
arrests of these men, there has been a massive drop in the number
of church lead-theft cases in this area."