Since January there have been 12 attacks by thieves on 11 churches in Somerset including two this weekend. In February four were reported in one week. In all £95, 000 worth of lead has been stolen causing £350,000 in overall roof repair costs.
The targeted churches include Meare, The Blessed Virgin Mary & All Saints, St Martin’s church, Kingsbury Episcopi, Holy Cross church, Middlezoy, St Mary’s church, Barrington, St Andrew & St Mary Pitminster, Taunton, South Petherton St Peter and St Paul, St John’s Wellington, St Edward’s Goathurst, St Giles Bradford-on-Tone, St Thomas a Becket South Cadbury, St Peter’s Ilton.
In Meare, the theft happened the night before a funeral was due to be held in the church, which meant the service had to be moved elsewhere, causing further distress to relatives. And in Pitminster the thieves took lead from one side of the church, but were disturbed when they came back a few days later to strip the lead from the other side of the roof.
The thieves have been targeting churches on nights when the weather conditions were at their worst, ensuring less people were out and about and that any noise caused by the thieves wasn’t heard.
Barbara Moore, churchwarden in Kingsbury Episcopi, said that in her 20 years as a warden the theft is “probably one of the most disappointing episodes” she’s experienced.
“The whole community has been upset by this attack, carried out on one of the most historic and significant buildings in the parish,” she said.
Archdeacon of Taunton, Simon Hill, said: “Stealing lead from a church has an enormous impact on the church and its wider community. The people picking up the pieces are those who are already working so hard to serve their churches and communities. It is far from being a victimless crime.
“These thieves are using the cover of storms and bad weather to remove lead in the middle of the night when no-one is around. This means that not only is there external damage, but because of the heavy rain there has also been substantial damage to the inside of much cherished and cared for buildings. As a diocese we are speaking with the police to see how we can work together to help fight heritage crime and we are also investigating alternatives to lead on church roofs. All those affected are very much in our prayers.”
The diocese’s Church Buildings Adviser, Emma Brown, said: “These thefts have far reaching consequences beyond the financial pressures to repair the damage caused. The thefts are not one-offs, they are carried out by organised criminals, so its very important to be aware of your roofs, which are at risk.
“We strongly urge parishes to seek grants towards the cost of a roof alarm. Without an alarm to assist the protection of lead, in some cases the insurance may not cover the full cost of its replacement.”
Avon and Somerset Police have asked members of the public to be extra vigilant and to report any suspicious behaviour to 101 with the reference number 5220054726. If you see an ongoing crime, call 999
Good guidance on how to protect your roofs and further preventative measures can also be downloaded from Ecclesiastical.
Historic England’s guidance includes a useful checklist, including what to do after a theft and planning for your repair.
Emma Brown, Church Buildings Adviser for the diocese is also here to support you. Contact Emma via email or telephone her on 01749 685 271.