THE Commissary Court of the diocese of Canterbury granted a
confirmatory faculty, subject to conditions, for the replacement of
stolen lead with an artificial non-metal roofing material known as
Ubiflex, and for the further stripping of remaining lead and
replacement with Ubiflex, on the roof of St Mary the Blessed
Virgin, in Eastry, Kent (
News, 5 and
12 October). The church must, however, make plans for
re-roofing using metal. The building is Grade I listed, and there
had been "an epidemic of lead thefts".
Some time in 2008 or 2009, four bays
of lead were stolen from the north aisle of the church. The parish
replaced them with lead, and received full settlement from
Ecclesiastical Insurance. On the night of 4 June last year, lead
from the roof was stolen again, and it then rained heavily. A
churchwarden who was the first to arrive at the church on 5 June
found water pouring through the south aisle roof. In the afternoon,
it was discovered that the north aisle roof was leaking, too.
Emergency measures were taken to cover the roof with tarpaulin, and
to protect the organ.
Water damage had occurred inside the
church, however, causing damage to plaster in the north and south
aisles. Ecclesiastical Insurance advised the parish that, because
St Mary's had suffered the previous theft of lead, the maximum that
it could claim would be £5000 in respect of metal loss, and £5000
in respect of collateral damage.
An emergency procedure had to be
followed for the stripped roof to be speedily re-covered. The
building contractor suggested to the fabric committee that, as an
alternative to lead, Ubiflex roofing, which had no value to
thieves, be used. A PCC meeting took place on 6 June, and the Revd
Canon Mark Roberts, who was temporary Priest-in-Charge of the
parish, stated that "the parishioners were in a state of anguish
and shock," and it was decided that the "fabric committee should
act quickly on behalf of the PCC".
Bad weather continued in June, and
there were problems with the tarpaulin; so there was further water
penetration inside the church through both the north- and
south-aisle roofs. There was no tender process, but, in view of the
urgency of the situation and the likelihood of further water
damage, on 22 June the fabric committee made a contract for the
work to be done using Ubiflex, at a total cost of approximately
£95,000. The Dover District Council had no objection to the use of
alternative roofing, and the DAC was also informed.
On the night of 8 July, there was a
further theft of lead from the roof of the north aisle. There was
also evidence that lead on the north aisle had been cut and left in
a prepared state by the thieves. It was felt that to leave any lead
on the aisle roofs would leave the church vulnerable to further
theft, and consequently further internal damage. The fabric
committee decided to ask the builder to remove the remaining lead,
and install Ubiflex roofing. The builders commenced work on the
roof on 11 July 2011, and completed it within the stipulated 30
The Archdeacon of Canterbury has a
general faculty, issued by the Commissary Court, to permit the
incumbent and churchwardens of churches that have suffered the
theft of lead or other metals from their buildings, to replace the
metal on a like-to-like basis, or with an appropriate substitute
material approved by the DAC, without the need for a further
Because, however, the work had been
carried out in advance of the Archdeacon's issuing a letter of
authority, and because the project involved the removal of lead
that had not been stolen, the PCC needed to apply for a
retrospective faculty from the Commissary General, and to explain
why approval was not obtained before the work commenced. The
application for a faculty was made in January this year.
The Commissary General, Morag Ellis
QC, said that she had concluded that the proposals would result in
harm to the significance of the church as a building of special
architectural or historic interest. The next questions were how
serious the harm would be, and how clear and convincing the
justification was for carrying out the proposals.
The baseline for consideration of the
faculty petition was the desecrated and damaged state in which the
building was left by the thieves after the two attacks. The
justification for putting the church into a weatherproof state was
compelling, the Commissary General said, and the PCC and the fabric
committee were rightly concerned to protect the treasures of the
church, and to maintain the use of the church for public
There was, however, no justification
for the way they went about doing this, the Commissary General
said. Their reaction to the prospect of further thefts was not a
justification, although it helped to explain their mindset.
Permitting the roof covering to remain
for a limited period would result in public benefits, the
Commissary General ruled. It would enable the building and its
contents to continue to be protected from the elements, and permit
the continued use of the church. A moratorium would "facilitate the
proper exploration of alternatives in a calm, considered, and
prayerful fashion, with the benefit of expert advice and
consultation with the relevant church and secular partners.
"This church community has suffered a
major blow to its self-confidence," the Commissary General said.
"An essential part of the Christian gospel is the conviction that
when people have made mistakes and gone wrong, they can seek and
receive God's forgiveness." As a Christian
Church, we believe that the
proclamation of that message in word and deed is of immense public
benefit, she said.
A faculty, limited to a period of five
years, was granted for the replacement of lead, stolen on 5 June
and 9 July, with Ubiflex. There are to be six-monthly inspections
by a duly appointed architect, and the amenity societies or the DAC
may, on giving reasonable notice to the churchwardens, inspect the
church at any time.
The Archdeacon and churchwardens must,
within three months, obtain initial proposals and cost estimates
from at least two suitably qualified architects or surveyors for
the reroofing of the south and north aisles in either lead or a
suitable long-term sheet metal; and the churchwardens must
establish a designated restoration fund.