Six men sentenced for £1-million church lead-thefts

by
21 December 2012

by Richard Vamplew

MEDIA LINCS

Exposed: St Nicholas's, Fulbeck, in Lincolnshire, was targeted for its lead

Exposed: St Nicholas's, Fulbeck, in Lincolnshire, was targeted for its lead

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, 9 March).

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 the churches."

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 22 months.

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 money."

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."

 

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