One person arrested as part of major church lead thefts inquiry in Lincolnshire

One person has been arrested as part of a major investigation into thefts of lead from church roofs that have blighted the area this year.

Police say there have been 31 offences where ‘substantial’ quantities of lead’ were stolen from church premises up until August 31 this year.

Anwick's parish church was targeted by lead thieves in May. Police now say they may now have halted the current trend.

Anwick's parish church was targeted by lead thieves in May. Police now say they may now have halted the current trend.

But the officer leading the probe believes that police action may have brought the spate of thefts to an end.

Parishioners of St Edith’s Church in Anwick were stunned when the roof covering an entire aisle was stolen overnight in May. Wilsford and Kelby churches were targeted soon after. A temporary covering has been placed on the roofs awaiting the insurance company claims process.

St Peter’s Church in Navenby was targeted in March, while Sleaford Methodist Church lost part of its roof in June.

With a cap on insurance pay outs, Navenby has been desperately raising the £80,000 to replace its temporary covering with events such as an art exhibition.

Lead was stripped from the roofs of St Swithun’s Church in Bicker and St Peter and St Paul’s in Gosberton near Boston within hours of each other in May - leaving both buildings open to the elements and a repair bill of £75,000.

But it is the investigation into these crimes that police say may have led to a breakthrough.

Chief Inspector Phil Vickers, force lead for rural crime at Lincolnshire Police, said: “Between January 1 and August 31 this year, Lincolnshire suffered 31 offences where substantial quantities of lead were stolen from church premises.

“The majority were on the west and south of the county, with these thefts being linked to others outside of Lincolnshire, mainly around the A1 corridor.

“We were able to take action that I believe resulted in the series of thefts being brought to an end.

“I know these offences cause considerable distress in our communities, offences against our heritage and places of worship have particular impact.

“We know that the financial cost can be £60,000 or more, but the feeling of vulnerability and loss cannot be quantified.”

He said the majority of crimes were in the west and south of the county, with the main series of offences ending during June after the police breakthrough.

One person has been arrested and is currently on bail to Grantham Police Station whilst further inquires are being progressed, said Chief Inspector Vickers.

“Churches are a focal point of our communities, not just as places of worship but also where people come together for friendship. These buildings play an absolutely key role in our way life, so when someone comes along and damages our heritage, it feels personal,” he said.

“Although it’s not possible to talk about everything we are doing as our enquiries progress, we can say that 31 offences of this nature are far too many and we would continue to ask people to call us if and when they see anything suspicious.”

A Diocese of Lincoln spokesman said the thefts have been across the East Midlands with the Diocese of Leicester, Peterborough and Derby also being hard hit too.

The bulk have been along the A1 corridor and in central Lincolnshire along the A15 and A17 routes.

An earlier spate of thefts in September and October last year equated to a shocking five per cent of the county’s 630 churches hit by thieves.

In total over the past 10 years about 12 per cent of Lincolnshire’s churches have been the subject of lead theft, stated the spokesman.

He explained: "The theft of a lead roof can have a devastating effect on a parish and with insurance claims for lead theft generally capped at unrealistic levels, parishes are left with the task of raising the additional funds in order to replace their roof covering.

"The cost of recovering an aisle roof in stainless steel (to prevent further theft) is on average £40,000-50,000. Additionally, grant funding has become far more difficult for churches in recent years due to increasing competition from other historic buildings which results in parishes spending a great deal of time working on funding applications rather than worship, mission and ministry."

The Diocese of Lincoln has a church building team who are on hand to help parishes, providing full assistance to help them raise the necessary grant funding to repair roofs and undertake other church repair and development projects.

Lincolnshire Police have recommended replacement with less valuable alternative materials where permitted, fitting alarms, Smart Water and other anti-theft devices.

Parishioners of St Edith’s Church in Anwick were stunned when the roof covering an entire aisle in May.