Reverend praises community spirit after church was targeted by gang of thieves

Gang of lead church thieves were jailed at Lincolnshire Crown Court on January 6

From left to right: Mihai Birtu, Laurentiu Sucea, Paul Buica and Constantin Motescu were all jailed at Lincolnshire Crown Court for 36 church thefts - Credit: Lincolnshire Police

A Suffolk clergyman has praised a rural community which helped to fund a new church roof after it was stripped of lead by thieves. 

All Saints Church in Hartest, near Bury St Edmunds, was targeted between October 14 and 16, 2019, when lead, worth around £30,000, was stolen from the south aisle roof. 

The four men responsible for the theft, who also targeted 35 other churches across the UK between May 2018 and March 2020, were jailed for their crime spree earlier this month.

The 36 churches involved faced a repair bill of nearly £2.1million in total. 

Constantin Motescu, 32, of Stebbings, Sutton Hill, Telford, admitted 23 charges of theft, Paul Buica, 25, of George Street, Birmingham, admitted 16 thefts, Mihai Birtu, 24, of Port Street, Evesham, admitted 14 thefts, and Laurentiu Sucea, 38, of George Street, Birmingham, admitted 13 thefts. 

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All four men previously pleaded guilty to a total of 36 offences and were sentenced at Lincoln Crown Court on January 6.

Motescu and Sucea were each jailed for six-and-a-half years, Buica was jailed for six years while Birtu was jailed for three years and seven months.

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Following the theft, All Saints Church received several grant awards from organisations such the National Churches Trust, the All Churches Trust and the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust on top of around £14,000 of community donations. 

Work on the new roof began at the end of September and is now complete. 

Rev Patrick Prigg, rector of All Saints church at Hartest Picture: PATRICK PRIGG

Rev Patrick Prigg, rector of All Saints church at Hartest Picture: PATRICK PRIGG - Credit: PATRICK PRIGG

Rector of All Saints, the Reverend Patrick Prigg said people from the community were "extremely generous". 

"The new roof is on. We're taking advantage of the lockdown to do some reordering work in the church," he said.

"We got some grants, local people have been extremely generous and we've dipped into resources, so any further funds coming in would be greatly appreciated. 

"It's a case of we're back to normal, as normal as normal is these days, and without any sense of being vindictive, I'm glad the men have been caught and faced justice because they would have kept doing the same thing to so many churches."

All Saints church at Hartest Picture: BRIDGET WELLER-POLEY

Work to replace the roof at Hartest Church is now complete - Credit: Archant

Reverend Prigg said people from across the community rallied to help after the theft. 

"People have been very supportive of the church building," he said. "I do find that lots of people, who may not come to church and may not even consider themselves Christian, do see a church building as the structure of their society.

"Whether it's because they love the architecture or the history or for other reasons, they do value their churches. 

"When we simply say: 'What percentage of the population come to church on a Sunday morning?', that's actually not a fair picture of what percentage of the population are interested in the existence of a church within their community or who are appreciative of what it does in terms of its ministry. 

"I think that comes across when you have a crisis like this and you see how many people are so very generous, and I'm extremely grateful to them."

Reverend Prigg added that the church hoped to hold an event to celebrate its new roof when it was safe to do so and Covid-19 regulations allowed. 

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