THREE men from Eastern Europe have been charged in connection with the theft of lead worth “hundreds of thousands of pounds” from 22 churches across one of the worst hit dioceses in the UK.
The alleged gang, all from Lithuania, face a charge of lead-theft conspiracy, after Lincolnshire Police set up a dedicated unit to combat the soaring rate of metal crimes in the county.
Tadas Andruska (aged 35), Andrius Cereska (30), and Andrius Kvedaras (29) appeared before magistrates last week, after police executed synchronised warrants at four addresses in Lincoln. They will next appear at Lincoln Crown Court because of the serious nature of the charges.
The 22 churches allegedly targeted by the gang between January and September last year include St Leodegar’s, Wyberton; St Mary’s, Frampton; St Nicholas’s, Lutton; St Margaret’s, Quadring; and St James’s, Aslackby.
The trio are suspected of stealing lead from other rural churches in villages around Grantham. All three men are also charged in connection with lead theft from an isolated Grade II listed church in Leicestershire, in August last year.
One retired Rural Dean, Canon Michael Covington, called for more co-ordinated action, after an estimated £50,000-worth of lead was removed from St James the Greater, in Little Dalby, near Melton Mowbray.
Police said that the latest arrests were a culmination of a six-month intelligence-led operation into metal thefts. It is estimated that the total loss and repair bill for the churches could exceed £250,000.
Rural Lincolnshire has been one of the counties worst hit by metal thefts. In November, another Lithuanian migrant, Saulius Ciuzas, aged 39, was jailed for 12 months, after stripping £10,000-worth of lead from St Peter and St Paul’s, Algakirk.
At the time, the Priest-in-Charge of Algakirk, the Revd Gary Morgan, revealed that there had been two previous lead-thefts at the church, which he described as being “very dispiriting”.
The new Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, has also spoken out about the high number of lead thefts from churches in the diocese, which is the largest in England. English Heritage revealed that it had been forced to step up security after 64 square feet of lead was stolen from the roof of the Bishop’s medieval palace in Lincoln.
Ecclesiastical, which is the main Church of England insurer, has said that Lincolnshire was second only to Essex for metal-thefts during 2011. St Nicholas’s, in the Lincolnshire village of Skirbeck, even installed a stainless-steel roof to deter thieves.
Ecclesiastical’s direct insurance services director, John Coates, said that last year had been “a very tough year, with incidents of metal theft from churches becoming virtually endemic”.
In response, Lincolnshire Police set up Operation Brompton, to tackle the rise in lead and copper thefts throughout the county.