Communities in Bourne and Stamford counting the cost for church lead thefts

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FOR some, stealing lead off church roofs may seem like an easy way to make quick money.

But for the parishioners and communities affected, the cost of the crime can be huge.

There have been a spate of thefts in the Mercury area over the last few months, including incidents at St Michael and All Angels’ Church in Uffington, St Mary and All Saints’ Church in Kirkby Underwood and St Edmund’s in Egleton.

Thieves strike late at night and take rolls of lead from church roofs. The metal has been used on churches for centuries for its water resistance and durability.

A ton of scrap lead will typically cost around £1,000 but the cost of repair and replacement to a church following a theft often runs into the tens of thousands.

St Michael and All Angels’ has been hit three times in the past year.

Minister, the Rev Carolyn Kennedy, said: “The sheets above the organ go every time. We were still waiting for the repair bill from the last attack but we estimate it will be about £7,000 just for the organ damage.

“Temporary repairs were put up straight away but it will take a lot longer for the full repairs because we need listed building consent first.

“It took several months to get to the point we were at when it was stolen for the second time.”

St Mary and All Saints’ Church was attacked twice in July. Treasurer Anthony Andrews said: “It’s very sad. We have a village of 200 people supporting a medieval building.

“I don’t think we want to put lead back on the roof because we are inviting it to be taken again.

“The police have been round to take more details and they tell us that they are now taking more interest in the crime because there has been a spate of incidents in this area.

“The sad thing is that people are prepared to pay cash for stolen metal.”

Insurance company Ecclesiastical covers all the Anglican churches in the UK.

Since January, the company has paid out more than £95,000 to Lincolnshire churches and has seen the number of claims almost double on the same period in 2010.

The company gives out free SmartWater kits, which security-mark lead, and trialled roof alarms last year.

Police have increased their focus on churches in Lincolnshire after more than 50 were attacked by lead thieves in the last six months.

Sector inspector Gary Stewart said: “Police teams are now visiting villages, handing out flyers asking people to look after their church and report anything suspicious or out of the ordinary.

“We are asking people to look after the heart of their community.

“We are also working with scrap metal dealers, who have been very approachable, asking them to log all transactions correctly.

“There is very little return for scrap lead in return for ruining a church.”

Thankfully the increased focus seems to be working and incidents have died down in the last two weeks.

But communities will be affected long after the thieves disappear.

Insp Stewart added: “It is a despicable crime and those who commit it should be ashamed of themselves.”