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Forum hears of rise in heritage crime

15 November 2019

Thefts from collection boxes in rural churches are on the increase


THIEVES have devised a plan to increase their gains when they target wall-mounted collection boxes in remote country churches.

They glue up the lock so that it cannot be emptied, and the donations inside mount up until they return and break it open. “The churches are often in isolated locations, and the safes are only emptied every two or three weeks,” said Leigh-Anne Beattie, the Churches Conservation Trust’s community officer for Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire. “When our volunteers find a lock is jammed, it takes a while to arrange to have it fixed, and, in the mean time, more money is put inside.”

She has also come across a method whereby thieves had removed the front plate to steal the contents, and then stuck it back to look untouched so that they could return and take more cash at a later date. It was discovered only when a volunteer noticed the glue holding it in place. “I’ve only been in post since July, and already I have had four wall-safe thefts,” Mrs Beattie said.

Details of the schemes were outlined last Friday at a forum on heritage crime. The forum was organised by the Trust and West Mercia Police at All Saints’, Worcester. The Trust, which looks after more than 300 Grade I and II listed churches, closed for regular public visiting, estimates that heritage crime has increased by 75 per cent in the year up to 2018. More than 90 people listened to a series of presentations by insurers, police, and heritage groups. Among them was the president of the Scrap Metal Dealers Association, Gillian Temple, who said that they, too, were targeted by metal-thieves.

She suggested that owners of heritage properties should build a relationship with their local dealer and build a relationship, so that they could be alerted when something was stolen and alert the authorities when offered something that they knew had been taken. She suggested that churches could invite dealers to their parish fêtes, and get them to advertise in their magazines.

It was also suggested that greater community use could be made of redundant buildings, especially in areas where schools and shops had closed.

“The event was really successful,” Mrs Beattie said. “The attendees were able to ask some of their common questions to the speakers, and this allowed them to share tips and ideas for keeping their buildings safe. There was lots of positive feedback: they were really keen on attending something like this in the future, and we have already had a request to hold something similar in another area.

“We are currently in talks about how we can replicate this in the future, and what else we can do to help people tackle this issue.”

Roof-replacement appeal. Members of thecongregation of St Andrew’s, Radbourne, in Derbyshire, has launched a crowdfunding appeal to raise £55,000 to replace the entire roof of the church, after it was targeted by lead thieves for the second time in four years. Visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/stop-the-church-roof-lead-thieves for full information and details of the levels of reward on offer.

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