CHURCHES have been alerted to a potential increase in lead thefts, as four men who caused more than £2 million-worth of damage to 20 rural churches were sentenced.
The men targeted churches from Dorset to Yorkshire between 2018 and 2020 (News, 4 October 2019). Many of the churches had little or no insurance cover for lead theft.
The risk-management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, Jo Whyman, said: “This is a timely reminder that the theft of metal is an ongoing issue, and the knock-on effects can be huge. There is a risk that the continuing economic downturn in the UK could see an increase in theft of metal from buildings such as churches, which is why it is vital that they take steps to protect their premises from unscrupulous offenders.”
Handing down long prison terms at Lincoln Crown Court last week, Judge Sjölin Knight described the four as “sophisticated, persistent, and organised”. She said: “Those losses fall on the parish. Small congregations struggle to pay the cost. These were very serious theft offences, not because of the lead you took but by the nature of the buildings targeted.”
All four had admitted multiple counts of theft at a previous hearing.
Michael Cranmer-Brown, prosecuting, said that St Nicholas’s, in Normanton, Lincolnshire, faced a £150,000 to £200,000 repair bill, but had no insurance cover. Some of the churches targeted were “many centuries old and Grade I listed”, he said. “They are the epicentre of the local community.”
The Vicar of St Peter’s, Langtoft, in East Yorkshire, the Revd Stuart Grant, said that he was grateful that the men had been brought to justice. His church faced a repair bill totalling £30,000 after an attack in September 2019 allowed rain to damage to the building and its contents. “I think it is the fact that they will just come in and desecrate a monument that’s been there for 800 or 1000 years,” he said. “All that history, and it means nothing to them for a few pounds-worth of lead.”
Constantin Motescu, aged 32, from Telford, Salop, and Laurentiu Sucea, 38, from Birmingham, were both sentenced to six years and six months. Paul Buica, 25, from Birmingham, was sentenced to six years, and Mihai Birtu, 24, from Evesham, Worcestershire, was sentenced to 43 months.
The case prompted Ecclesiastical Insurance to remind churches to protect their premises against similar attacks. Measures include installing security lights, CCTV, and roof alarms, and marking metal with a forensic security-marking system such as Smartwater, which helped the Lincolnshire police to trap the men.
Mr Wyman said: “We’re pleased that this prosecution has been successful, and hope it serves as a deterrent to would-be criminals. Our sympathies go out to those churches who have been victims of metal theft.
“It isn’t just the physical damage that takes place when these crimes are committed. Churches aren’t just about bricks and mortar: it’s about the people and the communities they represent. In many cases, lead is stripped without churches knowing, which leads to further issues with water ingress into the exposed roof, causing even more damage than the theft itself, and preventing churchgoers from attending, which can be devastating.
“By taking steps now, churches can deter would-be thieves and help to protect themselves.”