Police team set up to tackle over 40 thefts of lead from churches in the last year

Historic medieval wall paintings were put at risk when lead was stripped from Pickworth Church. ABCDE EMN-200901-124820001
Historic medieval wall paintings were put at risk when lead was stripped from Pickworth Church. ABCDE EMN-200901-124820001

Lincolnshire Police say they have dedicated a special team of investigators to combat the current crime wave which has seen over 40 thefts of from church roofs in the county in the last year.

With significant thefts of lead from Billingborough, Threekingham and Pickworth Churches in the last two months, as well as other locations around the county and beyond, the county force says its officers are making enquiries into the lead thefts from churches in the region during 2019 and January 2020.

Puddles inside Pickworth Church after lead was stripped from the roof followed by heavy rainfall. EMN-200901-124809001

Puddles inside Pickworth Church after lead was stripped from the roof followed by heavy rainfall. EMN-200901-124809001

So far, four men, aged 24, 28, 30 and 43, were arrested in the West Midlands on suspicion of conspiracy to steal after the theft from Threekingham. They have been released on bail while investigations continue, say police.

Chief inspector Phil Vickers said: “It is believed that in total there were more than 40 offences committed in Lincolnshire where lead was stolen from rural churches during 2019, and though at this stage 16 of those are believed to be linked, it is anticipated that number may increase as the investigation progresses.

“During 2019 Lincolnshire Police worked with the Lincoln Diocese and individual church premises across the county, providing site-specific advice to 53 premises as well as broader guidance to prevent offending, in addition to several hundred site visits that had been carried out previously.

“The impact of these offences goes well beyond the significant financial cost. Communities have felt a great sense of loss at the damage caused to their heritage, and increased vulnerability due to the rural nature of many of the premises.”

Volunteers laying temporary sheeting on Billingborough Church roof after its lead was stolen towards the end of last year. EMN-200130-165024001

Volunteers laying temporary sheeting on Billingborough Church roof after its lead was stolen towards the end of last year. EMN-200130-165024001

She added: “We know that in addition to the loss of lead, extensive damage has been caused to the fabric of the buildings by water ingress during bad weather.

“We continue to work with rural communities to prevent offending, and encourage anyone seeing or hearing anything suspicious at Heritage Sites, particularly at night but also during the day, to contact police immediately.”

Fundraising efforts have already sprung up to try and raise the cost of replacing the roofs, with all of them temporarily covered with sheeting and roofing felt until arrangements can be made.

The nationally-important medieval wall paintings and 600-year-old carved wooden rood screen were put at risk from water leaks when the lead was stolen from Pickworth Church earlier this month.

Laid bare - the exposed roof of Threekingham Church after thieves stole lead from it before Christmas. EMN-200130-164741001

Laid bare - the exposed roof of Threekingham Church after thieves stole lead from it before Christmas. EMN-200130-164741001

Interim minister Rev Cameron Watt is responsible for both Pickworth and threekingham churches and said: “Anything like this is a real challenge but having two of our churches targeted in a short period of time over Christmas is heartbreaking.”

He said the small communities would have to find ways to foot the repair bill and would be appealing to the Diocese for support, particularly for Threekingham where the church congregation is so small.

“It is not a victimless crime. We will have to look at grant applications and money from heritage bodies and fundraising,” he said.

You can donate to the Pickworth appeal at: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/pickworth-village-church-standrews