A ROMANIAN man was sentenced to five years in prison last Friday after he helped two gangs to steal lead worth more than £100,000 from rural churches.
Remus Tudorache, aged 27, admitted conspiring to steal lead from church roofs between March and May this year, and between April and May 2015. He also admitted stealing lead from St Michael and All Angels, Shefford, in the diocese of St Albans.
Judge Bacon, sentencing, said that Mr Tudorache had been part of an “organised professional operation”. She asked that her sentencing remarks be sent to the Home Office so that Mr Tudorache might be deported from the UK when he had served his sentence.
Hilary O’Keefe, prosecuting, said that the gang initially targeted three churches in Norfolk: St Mary’s, Narford; All Saints’, East Barsham; and St Mary’s, East Bradenham.
They then targeted two more churches in Norfolk: St Mary’s Erpingham, where they stole lead from the south aisle just after it had been replastered and redecorated, resulting in damage caused by flooding; and St Mary’s, Baconsthorpe, which was targeted twice, and lead worth £1000 was stolen — after parishioners had raised £120,000 for restoration work.
In an impact statement, the secretary of the PCC of St Mary’s, Baconsthorpe, Corinne Youngs, said that the thefts had left the congregation “crushed and devastated”. The church was in danger of closing as a result, she said.
In another impact statement read to the court, the Priest-in-Charge of St Mary’s, Erpingham, Canon Paul Thomas, said that repairs could cost as much as £50,000, and that providing a temporary cover for the roof had cost £3000 alone. The church’s insurance only covered £10,000 of the cost, he said. Parishioners had raised £20,000 through the online fundraising platform Just Giving.
He said that worshippers were “appalled, and some were in tears” after the theft.
The Roof Alarm Scheme was launched in August as part of a concerted effort to protect church buildings in Norfolk from lead theft. The Norwich Community Foundation said that there had been “a sustained spate of lead thefts with, on average, three to five churches targeted every month.” There have been 49 reported lead thefts from churches across the county during the past year.
More than £250,000 will be spent installing alarms on church buildings in Norfolk. The Raise the Alarm campaign aims to raise £100,000.
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said that Norfolk’s medieval churches were “under threat from lead thieves who damage the fabric, leave havoc in their wake, and cause those who care so well for our churches to feel dejected and dispirited.
“This Roof Alarm Scheme is an imaginative and effective way of combating these thieves and giving heart to those who care for our churches so well. That’s why I’m glad to contribute to the scheme using trust funds available to me. I’m grateful to the Police and Crime Commissioner and the other contributors for their imagination and support.”
Paul Humphris, a church claims consultant at Ecclesiastical, said on Wednesday: “Small-scale theft of lead from churches has significantly reduced compared to the high volumes we were seeing during 2008 to 2011. We believe that this is due to a combination of DNA marking of lead, instillation of roof alarms, and better control of scrapyards.
“However, during 2015 we saw an increase in large thefts perpetrated by organised gangs, which involved the removal of entire church roofs. This trend continued throughout 2016 and, for the first time since 2011 we saw an increase in the volume of claims. We encourage churches to remain vigilant and contact us or refer to the guidance which is available for all our church customers on our website.”