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Paving-slab thieves shown the path to jail

24 December 2022

Three unwise men sentenced for theft of Yorkstone from churchyards in the north-west

St Cuthbert’s, Halsall

The path at St Cuthbert’s, Halsall, in Lancashire, after a visit by thieves in spring

The path at St Cuthbert’s, Halsall, in Lancashire, after a visit by thieves in spring

TWO men have received custodial sentences for stealing paving slabs from church properties in a spate of thefts in the north-west last spring (News, 4 March 2022).

At Chester Crown Court on 21 December, Jason Perry, 49, of Walshaw Street, Oldham, and Connor Lipinski, 28, of Gale Court, Rochdale, were sentenced to four and three years’ imprisonment respectively.

A third man, Owen Lipinski, 31, of Newark Road, Rochdale, was given a suspended sentence. All three had previously pleaded guilty to the charges of stealing valuable York stone across Cheshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and Lancashire. Mr Perry also admitted to handling a stolen vehicle.

The thefts took place between January and March 2022, and targeted churchyard paths made of York stone. After a raid on Ormskirk Parish Church, in Lancashire, on 16 February, the Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Pauline Bicknell, said that the crime had left people in the town, including non-churchgoers, “quite distressed”.

In a statement issued with the police announcement of the sentencing, Historic England’s Head of Heritage Crime Strategy, Mark Harrison, said that “removing large areas of paving from church buildings has not just a serious financial impact on church communities but a significant impact on their morale.

“The stone stolen in this case will have historic and cultural value and its removal can lead to irreparable loss and damage not just to individual communities but to the whole nation, which is why tackling this type of heritage crime is so important,” he said.

The risk-management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, Jo Whyman, said that the value of claims for stolen stone had doubled over the past four years.

“This recent surge in theft of stone is certainly something we have a growing concern about, and there is a real risk that the continuing economic downturn in the UK could see an increase in historic properties being targeted by unscrupulous thieves,” Mr Whyman said.

Ecclesiastical advises churches concerned about being at risk to register their stonework and mark it with SmartWater, and, as an additional deterrent, to display signage indicating that the stones have this identification mark.

BBC News reports that at least six churches in Lincolnshire have decided to install steel roofs rather than replace stolen lead.

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