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Church roof lead thieves labelled 'callous' after fifth Suffolk incident since end of August

PUBLISHED: 11:30 17 September 2015

Lead has been stolen from the roof of Dennington Church.
Rector Jonathan Olanczuk outside the church.

Lead has been stolen from the roof of Dennington Church. Rector Jonathan Olanczuk outside the church.

Lead thieves have been branded "callous" by the rector of the latest Suffolk church to fall victim to the crime.

Where have the five lead thefts taken place?Where have the five lead thefts taken place?

Overnight on Monday, around 10ft by 30ft of lead was stolen from the roof of St Mary’s Church, Dennington. Last week, sometime between 7pm on Wednesday and 12noon on Thursday, St Mary the Virgin Church in Parham had around 25m by 10m of lead stripped from its roof.

It means there have now been five similar incidents since the end of August, including at St Mary’s Church in Combs, near Stowmarket, at which the bill to replace the stolen lead is set to reach £150,000.

Jonathan Olanczuk, rector at St Mary’s Church, Dennington, said: “It’s not so much the financial damage, it hurts the church and the wider community, whether they are churchgoers or not.

“It was a ridiculous and callous thing for people to do. It makes the church vulnerable to water damage and it just hurts people.”

Strict rules govern lead sales

There are rules in place to stop the stolen lead being sold on to reputable scrap metal merchants.

David Dodds, joint managing director at Sackers Recycling in Great Blakenham, explained that anyone turning up looking to sell scrap metal at a registered recycling merchant would be asked if they already had an account.

“If they do have an account with us that means we have full documentation of who they are, where they live, their vehicle registration and a copy of their passport or driving licence with their photograph on,” said Mr Dodds.

If a seller doesn’t have an account, they will be asked to provide proof of where they live with a current utility bill and a copy of their driving licence or passport with their photograph to prove their identity before an account can be opened. These records are open for police inspection should any concerns arise on the source of the scrap metal.

Mr Dodds added that Sackers also operates a CCTV system to capture vehicles’ registration plates as they enter.

John Bradfield, church warden at Parham, said: “We are still getting over it. I hate to say it but I just don’t know how long it will be before it’s replaced.

“We have got to set about raising a lot of money now.”

The total cost of the lead stolen at the Dennington and Parham churches has not yet been confirmed.

Residents near to the church in Dennington reported hearing noises at around 5am, while a vehicle with no lights on had been seen leaving the area.

The theft at St Mary’s in Comb took place overnight on August 23/24. It was followed by a theft at St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Lavenham on August 25, at which a bill of £150,000 could also be needed to cover the cost of repairs.

At some point between 10pm on September 3 and 6am on September 4, a further quantity of lead was stolen from the roof of the church of Stratford St Mary.

Fundraising campaigns have been set up to try and help the organisations with insurance policies not able to guarantee to cover the full amount lost.

Speaking on the crimes, the Venerable Ian Morgan, Archdeacon of Suffolk, said: “I am deeply saddened by the continuing theft of lead from the roofs of our much-loved churches.

“Many people in rural communities work tirelessly and with great personal sacrifice to maintain these beautiful, historic and significant buildings.

“It is a heartless affront to their dedication and commitment that such selfish acts are perpetrated for small financial gain by the people who act in this way. Such despicable acts deserve the widest possible condemnation.

“Please can I urge everyone to be vigilant and to contact the police if they see any suspicious behaviour around one of our churches. In the meantime we will be doing all we can to support the communities which have suffered from this carefully planned vandalism.”

John Howard, spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: “We are appalled by this and are working closely with the police, insurers and security organisations to reduce the threat, and with the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust to assist parochial church councils (PCCs) financially.

“While the current spate of thefts continue, communities are urged to be vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour to the police.

“Members of the public should not approach thieves but dial 999.

“PCCs should apply and register with Smartwater and not leave ladders or any other equipment which may assist the thieves near the church.”

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