FIVE rural churches just a few miles apart have been targeted by lead thieves in a ten-day crime spree.
Police believe that an organised gang was responsible for the attacks last month on the churches in East Yorkshire. Serious damage was caused at St Peter’s, Langtoft; St Mary’s, Lockington; St Peter’s, Wawne; and St Lawrence’s, Sigglesthorne. The thieves were disturbed at St Peter’s, Hutton Cranswick, and escaped empty-handed.
The Rector of Lockington, the Revd Carol Fisher-Bailey, said that it was the second church in her care to lose lead: five years ago, thieves struck in Welwick, 30 miles away. “It just happens a lot,” she said.
This time the whole roof was stripped. “It was probably done on the night of Friday, 19 September; but no one realised until the Sunday when rain got in,” Ms Fisher-Bailey said. “Our house is only a short distance away, but we didn’t hear anything, and neither did any of our neighbours. They took several tons. It’s still not clear how they managed to do it. They would have needed a big lorry to take it away. The parish mostly feels disappointment and shock.”
At first it was feared that the water had caused damage to wood panelling in a 17th-century side chapel of the Grade-I listed building, but it appears to be drying out well. “We have managed to get a temporary cover on, and expect to return to regular services within the next couple of weeks,” she said. “We are still waiting to see the replacement cost, but there is a limit of £7500 on what the insurers pay out. The lead was marked with smart water, but there is no roof alarm.”
York diocese’s church-buildings adviser, Keith Halliday, described it as “a terrible week”. His department offers grants of £1000 to install roof alarms, and was in the midst of arranging one for St Peter’s, Wawne, when the thieves struck. “It is a sensible precaution, because without one, Ecclesiastical Insurance only indemnify up to £7500,” he said.
“All the churches are functioning as normal. The worry is the long-term effect, either on morale or money. I think this bunch are quite resilient, and will bounce back with renewed vigour; but some churches have been affected particularly badly, where the temporary roof is still on after ten years, and there is little sight of raising the huge amount to replace it.
“A recent, sharp increase in scrap-metal values on world markets has emboldened criminals to steal the lead. The ports make getting it out of the country easy. The A1, A19, A15, M62, etc. make it easy to get on to main roads and away. The remoteness of a lot of our churches make them easy targets. Satellite maps mean one can find a church and see if it has a lead roof without setting foot near it. With the onset of darker nights, the thieves have longer to work the roofs, and are less likely to be spotted carrying out ‘hostile reconnaissance’.
“Whether you’re a churchgoer or not, these buildings belong to their community, and they’re a living record of the place they serve. Everyone is hurt by these thefts, and in the end the best protection against them is vigilance by everyone in the parish.”
Inspector Phil Hinch of Humberside Police said: “We are investigating all these incidents, as well as the theft of lead from the roof of a bank in Driffield. It is particularly disheartening to hear of people targeting churches, as the impact on the local village communities is huge. If anyone sees people working on a church roof, contact us so that we can check that they are legitimate workers.”