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Criminal damage and thefts at Suffolk churches rising, report says

PUBLISHED: 16:30 28 October 2020

Reverend Peter Goodridge at St John's Church in Elmswell, where lead was stolen from the roof in 2017 

Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Reverend Peter Goodridge at St John's Church in Elmswell, where lead was stolen from the roof in 2017 Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

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The number of thefts and criminal damage at Suffolk’s churches has risen sharply in the last year, it has emerged.

Church warden Keith Davis in front of Preston St Mary Church, where lead was stolen Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNChurch warden Keith Davis in front of Preston St Mary Church, where lead was stolen Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the Countryside Alliance to Suffolk police revealed there were 104 reported crimes at places of worship throughout the county between July last year and September.

A previous request found there had been 169 incident at churches over the previous three years.

Suffolk police said there were five cases of lead theft, 47 cases of general thefts, 47 cases of criminal damage and five cases of violence - including an assault on an officer - during the timeframe.

Earlier in October, thieves stole a “significant quantity” of lead from Preston St Mary Church near Lavenham, with the resulting leaks causing damage to the structure of the Victorian building.

Lead was stripped from the roof of St John's Church in Elmswell in November 2017 Picture: PETER GOODRIDGELead was stripped from the roof of St John's Church in Elmswell in November 2017 Picture: PETER GOODRIDGE

Keith Davis, church warden, said the community were being “extra vigilant” after the extent of the damage was discovered by a cleaner.

MORE: Police warn villagers to be vigilant as lead thieves steal from churches in broad daylight

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He said: “There’s a concern that someone is able to commit this despicable crime in the dead of the night and that they weren’t heard.”

On Remembrance weekend in 2017, four tonnes of lead was stripped from the roof of St John’s Church in Elsmwell, near Bury St Edmunds - with Reverend Peter Goodridge saying the security costs are still ongoing.

The church also plan to install a defibrillator on its grounds, though fears have been expressed over it becoming a target for vandals or thieves.

Rev Goodridge said: “The lead thefts had a financial impact - we’re still paying for it now. It’s all about paying for the precautions.

“Coronavirus has affected us financially, as we are not getting that income. We are looking at a significant loss.”

A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: “It is concerning that places of worship are subject to crime and we would encourage members of the public to inform us of any suspicious activity in or around church sites by calling 101, or 999 if a crime is in progress.

“We fully appreciate such crimes can be very upsetting and distressing, particularly for those communities directly affected.

“We regularly give security guidance and crime reduction advice to those responsible for church buildings to help them to reduce the chances of becoming a victim.”

MORE: Severe damage caused to Victorian carved roof after church lead theft


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