Officials and worshippers in a West Norfolk village have been left counting the cost after lead thieves targeted their parish church.
Thousands of pounds of damage is thought to have been caused in the raid on All Saints’ Church, East Winch, which was discovered on Friday.
The church’s rector, Rev Riaz Mubarak, yesterday described those responsible for the raid as “heartless and senseless.”
He said: “They don’t realise the house of the Lord needs people’s love and people’s collections.”
Norfolk police and crime commissioner Lorne Green also condemned what he described as a “scourge” on the area’s heritage and said police were doing their best to stop it.
He also revealed he will be launching a campaign shortly to provide alarms for churches thought to be at greatest risk.
He said: “My heart sinks every time I hear a report of our heritage being desecrated in this way.”
Officers say the roof on the north side of the building was completely stripped of lead during the raid, while around three quarters of the metal on the south side was also removed.
Church treasurer Wendy Smith, who is also one of the building’s wardens, said the lead was covered with Smartwater protection fluid, which is designed to ensure metal is uniquely identifiable and reduce its attraction to would-be thieves.
She said: “They curled it up along the edge. I think they were disturbed. ”
Rev Mubarak, whose area also covers the churches in West Winch, Setch, Middleton and North Runcton said it was intended to resume normal services and events at All Saints’ as soon as possible.
He said he was saddened by any theft from a Norfolk church, but added: “It was shocking to us because it is a less populated church.”
Lead thefts have become an increasingly common problem, because of the metal’s value for sale on the scrap market.
Mr Green said more than 100 churches across the county have been assessed to be at risk from theft and around £200,000 had been raised to provide alarms for the 50 sites thought to be in the greatest danger.
Although churches would not have to pay for the alarms to be fitted, they would have to accept responsibility for maintaining them once they are installed.
Mr Green plans to launch an appeal over the next few weeks to raise the funds necessary to fit alarms for all the churches on the at risk list.
He added: “I’ve been working very hard for many months to find the wherewithal to protect this heritage from being desecrated.
“We need corporate and individual contributions to make this happen.
“Otherwise, we risk being the generation that risks losing this heritage and denying it to future generations.
“We’re talking about churches that are 700 or 800 years old. I think we should try to preserve them.”
Police say the total cost of the damage caused in the raid on All Saints has not yet been fully assessed.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact police on 101.