A CATALOGUE of thousands of crimes, ranging from rape and murder to petty theft, at places of worship over the past two years has been revealed in a report published this week by the Countryside Alliance.
The figures were described as “extremely distressing reading” by the Alliance, which obtained them from UK police forces through Freedom of Information requests. It launched the investigation after members expressed concern over lead thefts at rural churches. In total, the number of crimes reported to have taken place in or around places of worship since January 2017 was 20,168.
Mo Metcalf-Fisher of the Countryside Alliance said this week: “These figures paint a bleak picture. What’s worse is that there are likely many, many more incidents like these recorded, but that haven’t been disclosed to us. As a society, irrespective of faith or none, we need to be much more vigilant when it comes to watching over churches and places of worship by reporting suspicious activity.
“These figures serve as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote.”
Of the 45 police forces approached, only five failed to respond. These included Police Scotland, so there are no details of incidents north of the border. Some forces said that excessive cost was the reason for not providing detailed information, and recording methods were found to vary. Greater Manchester recorded 1523 unspecified crimes in a category that included cemeteries, church halls, churchyards, convents, graveyards, presbyteries, “religion”, or vicarages.
Bedfordshire police reported 160 crimes in detail. Four related to lead theft; 48 were general theft, including four bicycles; and 37 were criminal damage, including four cases of arson. There were 13 cases of violence, including two sexual offences and one rape — the location of which was a “churchyard, cemetery, or crematorium”.
Dfyed Powys police reported 181 crimes, mostly of theft; and the Cleveland force reported 294 crimes, including 56 of lead theft. Devon and Cornwall recorded 669 incidents under the category “churches/abbey/cathedral/ chapel/temple/vicarage”. These comprised 334 thefts, 193 cases of criminal damage, and 129 cases of violence, including ten rapes.
The Metropolitan Police figure of 3161 crimes covered all religious buildings. They included 543 cases of criminal damage and 973 of violence, including one murder and 31 rapes. The 1148 crimes recorded by Sussex police included one case of bigamy and three of possessing weapons.
In Northern Ireland, 1446 crimes were recorded, including 14 lead thefts, 754 general thefts, 548 cases of criminal damage, and 130 violent incidents.
West Yorkshire police had 1199 crimes at churches or religious buildings. They included 262 thefts, and 275 cases of criminal damage. There were also 31 sexual offences, including eight rapes, and three instances of trafficking controlled drugs.
The Rector of Kirkheaton, in West Yorkshire, the Revd Ian Jones, whose two churches suffered attacks by thieves only weeks apart, said: “The wider public need to know churches are being targeted like this, and it’s just not on.”
Scores of flagstones were stolen from St Bartholomew’s, Grange Moor, and Kirkheaton Parish Church. “It was a really heartless thing to do,” Mr Jones said. “I am conflicted: as a human, I feel disgusted. It is a really low and pretty despicable thing to do; but, on a Christian level, I pray every day for God to forgive me my sins in the same way that I must forgive those who sin against me. It’s no good praying that prayer unless I am prepared to put it into practice.
“As a Christian leader within this community, I need to love the people who have done this, and to forgive them, and to hope that one day, somehow, they might encounter the Lord Jesus, too. From that encounter, they might realise that what they have done is wrong, and they will repent, change, stop stealing, and earn an honest living like other people.
“When something like this happens, it becomes a temporary distraction from the mission of the Church. I don’t want to be thinking about flagstones: I want to be thinking about how I can tell more people about Jesus.”
The report can be downloaded from www.countryside-alliance.org.