CRIMES committed at churches and religious premises over the past year have fallen compared with the previous 12 months — but there were still more than 4000 offences.
Incidents recorded in the year to July include theft, vandalism, arson, violence including sexual assault, stalking, malicious communications, hate crime, and drug possession. A year earlier, during the pandemic, the total was more than 5000 (News, 30 October 2020).
The figures were obtained by the Countryside Alliance through Freedom of Information requests to Britain’s 45 territorial police forces. Mo Metcalf-Fisher, who led the research, said that they were concerned that the numbers still remained high, despite eight months of lockdown during the year. The Alliance collates the figures as part of its ongoing focus on rural churches, especially increasing funding for security.
“We are presented with a grim reality that many churches and places of worship are being treated as easy targets by criminals,” he said. “All too often they are subjected to heinous crimes, either in or on their property. We cannot allow these precious places, which are often the centre of villages and towns, to go unguarded and be so exposed.”
All but seven forces — Avon and Somerset, Durham, Hampshire, Police Scotland, Thames Valley, West Mercia, and Wiltshire — responded to the request.
“It is frustrating that some police forces do not comply, as it makes monitoring patterns county by county impossible,” Mr Metcalf-Fisher said. “It does seem strange that the vast bulk can, but others claim they consistently cannot. It could be that the scale of the problem on an annual basis is bigger than that what these figures tell us.
“We know that police forces take the protection of our heritage very seriously, and hope that where counties have seen a drop in crime, it is because of greater public vigilance and a larger police presence in and around these precious places.”
He welcomed the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s recent focus on church metal thefts, but said that the Alliance would be pressing the Government on the future of its places of worship protective-security funding scheme, as there was no information about the next round of applications. “This is an incredibly important scheme for those vulnerable places of worship to obtain the funds necessary for the installation of security features.”
Earlier this month, several 18th-century gravestones in the churchyard of St Piran in Perranarworthal, near Truro, were smashed by vandals. One of the churchwardens, David Simmons, told ITV: “We may never know who did this but, either way, we hope it is an isolated event. We’ve warned other churches to look out for similar offences. It’s left us feeling intimidated and wondering what will come next.”
Devon and Cornwall Police are investigating.
On Remembrance Sunday, the windows of St John’s Methodist Church, Arbroath, in Scotland, were smashed, and on Armistice Day, a poppy collection box was stolen from Winterton Parish Church, in Norfolk, moments after the service.