West Norfolk churches once again targeted by lead thieves
Police have encouraged churches to take appropriate counter-measures within their budget in light of two separate lead theft incidents in West Norfolk this week.
St Georges Church at Gooderstone and St Edmund’s Parish Church in Downham were both targeted by thieves within the space of four days.
Norfolk Police are aware of the incidents, which took place on Sunday and Wednesday, and have started investigations.
Community engagement officer Lee Anderton said: “We would encourage all churches to take security measures as nine out of 10 are in a vulnerable location up a track or on the edge of the village away from where people would oversee them. The side of the church can often be targeted especially if it is covered by a wood.”
PC Anderton said the incidents tend to be sporadic but tends to be when the scrap metal value is higher.
Father James Mather, rector of St Edmund’s Church, took to social media on Wednesday saying it was “proving impossible” to report the theft of lead from the south aisle of the church.
He said: “Having spoken to the police operator, I’ve now been hanging on for 27 minutes. So now to the impersonal online form.”
Rev Linda Lubbe, of St George’s, said the church is currently getting quotes for repairs.
She added: “Because there was a very bad storm, we think no-one in the area was able to hear anything at the time.
“It could have been much worse so we are grateful for that. The people who looked at the roof think those people [who stole the lead] were disturbed.
“We were expecting to find the church flooded after the weekend but it was not, it’s still reasonably water tight.”
Norfolk’s Police and crime commissioner Lorne Green said he has been “enormously concerned” about lead thefts for a while now, and previously launched a roof alarm scheme to protect the most vulnerable churches.
He pledged £100,000 at a meeting in December 2017 to kick-start the alarm scheme but is now looking into further funding before he steps down in May.
And talks are taking place to secure extra funding for churches to help prevent criminals from stealing lead.
Mr Green said another “jolt of energy” is required to counter this issue.
He has been cooperating with the Diocese of Ely to fund alarms for 75 churches but there are still 30 to 40 churches across Norfolk at a concerning level of risk.
Mr Green added: “With ongoing maintenance costs being high, installing alarms are at some cost to them [churches].
“For small parishes this is burdensome but an overwhelming number of churches have taken action. The stats show a dramatic drop in the number of incidents since we first launched the scheme. “
The cost of installing alarms is around £3,000 to £5,000 according to Mr Green who met with the Bishop of Norwich last week to discuss further steps for the county before he steps down in May.
On those who targeted St Edmund’s and St George’s churches this week, Mr Green said: “My message is do not take your chances. Norfolk Police is watching you.”
Community engagement officer Lee Anderton said it is unknown at this stage whether there is a connection between the two incidents.
Father Mather said the bells will still be rung at St Edmund’s Church for West Norfolk Day despite the theft.
And St Edmund’s received support from St Stephen’s House in Oxford who posted on social media: “A reminder of the constant uphill task so many priests and congregations have to keep things going with scant resources of time and money.”
“Our prayers and solidarity with you today.”
In addition to alarm system funding, Mr Green stated churches need to adopt some “common sense” to ensure burglaries stay down in the area.
After the lead thefts at Downham and Gooderstone this week, Mr Green advised churches to ensure nothing valuable is left on display if it can be stored away.
And he stated police need to protect churches in West Norfolk as they remain a vital part of the community.
Mr Green said: “Churches like to have an open door policy. These buildings are for those of religion or faith, and there is also a particular meaning and importance associated with milestones in people’s lives.
“Churches are so important to every village and town as a centrepiece and a reminder of heritage in the county.”
More by this authorBen Hardy