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Police link church roof thefts after sixth raid

Lavenham Church St Peter and St Paul, had lead stolen from their north roof, cleaning up water damage, Revd Stephen Earl Rector and Rural Dean. Picture Mark Westley ANL-150826-115315009
Lavenham Church St Peter and St Paul, had lead stolen from their north roof, cleaning up water damage, Revd Stephen Earl Rector and Rural Dean. Picture Mark Westley ANL-150826-115315009

After six church roof lead thefts in a matter of weeks police are warning people to be vigilant following the latest attack in Hundon.

Suffolk Police have confirmed it is linking the crimes, Hundon being the latest in a series including a raid in Lavenham which left damage of up to £150,000.

The Hundon theft took place between 5pm Thursday, September 17, and 9am Friday, September 18, at All Saints Church in North Street.

Lead was stolen from two sections of roof measuring 60ft by 11ft each, with an estimated value of £30,000.

Parts of the parapet were damaged in the process which will cost an estimated £4,000 to repair.

Leaks following the theft left up to £150,000 of damage in St Peter and St Paul Church in Lavenham, which was hit on August 24, just a day after the first attack in the county.

So far churches in Combs, Lavenham, Stratford St Mary, Parham, Dennington and now Hundon have been targeted.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk Police confirmed the thefts were being linked, with investigations continuing to find the culprits.

James Cartlidge, MP for South Suffolk, was left appalled by the damage when he visited Lavenham, insisting all must done to protect and preserve the area’s historic churches.

“This is a crime against culture, against history and against the most compassionate of institutions,” he said.

Mr Cartlidge added: “We have a duty to try and assist these great assets of our community so that they can continue to thrive.”

He has joined forces with St Edmundsbury MP Jo Churchill to see if churches affected by the thefts can be supported by a Government roof scheme.

“The recent spate of lead theft from church roofs is a major concern,” he said.

“In the last few weeks alone we have had thefts from Lavenham and Stratford St Mary Churches in my constituency.

“A key issue is the sheer cost of making good the damage. For that reason, Jo Churchill and I have written to the Minister concerned to see if the Listed Places of Worship roof repair fund can be used to support these churches.

“This sort of fund can seem a ‘long shot’ but as I mentioned in my maiden speech to Parliament, my own church in Assington has benefited from a significant sum through the fund to repair its roof, giving me confidence to pursue this line of finance.

“I note that the fund has recently been updated to include lead theft but there are technical issues around insurance.

“As such, we are seeking clarification from the Minister on how this fund can be accessed.”

Police continue to appeal for residents to report any suspicious persons or vehicles they may have seen.

Enquiries have resulted in reports of vans being seen in some of the areas in the early hours of the morning.

Members of the public are asked to report any suspicious activity by dialling 999.

Anyone with information about this crime is asked to contact Bury St Edmunds CID on 101 quoting reference HH/15/2376.

The Suffolk Historic Churches Trust (SHCT) has also launched an urgent ‘Alarms for Churches Appeal’, so that alarm systems can be installed on the roofs of churches at risk.

The Trust is offering to cover half the cost of involved, up to a value of £2,500 per church.

Trustees are guaranteeing to pay this for the first ten churches who apply and are now launching an appeal, so more vulnerable churches and chapels in Suffolk can get the financial support .

The SHCT is appealing for people to support the appeal so more churches are protected and can secure full insurance cover.

“Current ecclesiastical insurance policies will only pay the first £7,000 of a claim if no suitable alarm is installed,” said Martin Favell, the chairman of the Trust.

“But many churches and chapels simply cannot afford the cost of these alarms. When a church is targeted local people are faced with massive repair bills, not only to replace the missing lead but also repair the considerable rain damage that can result from the theft.

“Alarms not only act as a really effective deterrent, but also their presence means that were the worst to still happen, their insurance will cover the cost of the damage.”

To donate visit www.justgiving.com/suffolkhct or send a cheque to The Secretary, Suffolk Historic Churches Trust, Brinkleys, Hall Street, Long Melford, Suffolk, CO10 9JR.

Mr Favell added: “If the people of Suffolk really get behind this appeal, we can have a huge impact in deterring the criminals and saving these buildings.”

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