THE police are appealing for churches that have had items stolen
over the past five years to check a list of 60 recently recovered
Detectives retrieved stained-glass windows, medieval
gravestones, and carved stone heads after the arrest of a man known
as Britain's most prolific church thief. They were found on raids
on collectors in London and Brecon supplied by the alleged
Many were stolen from churches in the Welsh Marches, but they
also included the two rare 15th-century painted panels stolen from
Holy Trinity, in Torbryan, in Devon, in 2013.
They were found in the London raid with about 40 other stolen
News, 22 May 2015, 16 August 2013). The
collector is being treated as a witness rather than a suspect.
Restoring many of the items to their owners is proving difficult
for the Operation Icarus investigation team from the West Mercia
Artefacts still unclaimed include a gravestone inscribed
"daemon", a framed tapestry depicting Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and a
golden dove, a number of gargoyles, and a medieval lion, probably
from a tomb.
One item that has been returned is a stone head of a young woman
taken from St Thomas's, Redwick, in Monmouthshire. It was
identified by a member of the congregation who saw reports of the
The man arrested is described as an outwardly respectable,
well-educated, middle-aged man, aged 50, from south Wales. He has
been released on police bail while inquiries continue. The police
suspect a series of coordinated thefts from churches from the
Scottish Borders, to East Anglia, and the West Country.
Detective Inspector Martin Barnes, of West Mercia police, said
that the perpetrator of the thefts may have had helpers, as the
churches that were raided were spread across the country and some
of the objects were too heavy for one person to carry.
So far just 13 items have been restored to their owners. They
include a 15in-high stone plaque taken from Dore Abbey in
Herefordshire, marking the spot where the heart of John de Breton,
Bishop of Hereford from 1269 to 1275, was buried. Another is an
800-year-old stone figure of a knight, removed from a windowsill at
St Michael's, Castle Frome, near Ledbury.
A four-foot cross from a church in Brecon was only identified
after a detective trawled images of historic churches. Mr Barnes
said: "When we called to say we had it, they didn't know it had
Anni Holden, a spokeswoman for the diocese of Hereford, where a
number of churches were targeted, told The Times: "When we
first got them back we felt like making a song and dance about it,
but then we thought twice. There's always the danger someone will
come back and steal them again, so we just put them back where they
belong, where they have been for hundreds of years.
"We never thought they had much monetary value, but they are
important as part of the fabric of the church and their loss was
very upsetting for the congregation."