Measures to combat thieves targeting Suffolk churches launched
- Credit: Gregg Brown
The public have been asked to help the church and the police combat thieves targeting medieval churches across the county.
Today, the Right Reverend Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and Suffolk Constabulary Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Kearton joined colleagues at St Mary’s Church in Combs, one of those churches targeted, where thieves stole several thousands of pounds of lead from the roof in August, for the launch of the church security document.
The initiative will aim to make churches less vulnerable, while allowing them to remain unlocked during the daytime for people to pray or visit.
Since July, 11 churches in Suffolk have been targeted for the lead from the roofs, with the latest incident happening earlier this month at St Bartholomew’s church in Groton, near Boxford.
The launch comes as one of the churches targeted, the church of St Peter and St Paul in Lavenham, reached its fundraising target to cause damage caused to the building following a theft in July.
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The document, available to all Church of England Parochial Church Councils (PCC) in the diocese, contains self-assessment forms to see how good or bad the building’s security is.
The assessment highlights options and offers suggestions to implement including installing everything from CCTV cameras and intruder alarms to new security lighting or even planting thick hedges such as hawthorn, privet, holly or yew which are difficult for intruders to get through easily or quickly.
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The document also includes contact details of crime reduction officers who can offer further detailed advice.
Chief inspector Matthew Rose, who was at the launch, said: “These are awful thefts. Just a few hundred pounds is causing tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage.
“It’s really important that the community takes an active role in looking after their churches as well.”
Ch Insp Rose said the public could help by making looking in the church part of their routine, and that if anyone noticed any suspicious action in or around the church to call 999 immediately.
Bishop Martin said: “We live in a low crime county but our community’s heritage has recently been prone to major thefts.
“A number of churches have had their lead roofs stolen and therefore the launch of these guidance notes is very timely
“Working in partnership with the church, the police forces in Suffolk and Norfolk have produced an easy to follow leaflet for PCCs and I hope that they will be read and acted upon in order to keep our places of worship open and available to all.”
Some PCCs may already to be able to obtain a grant for the fitting of alarms due to the ‘alarms for churches’ appeal from the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust, which results in increased insurance cover should the places of worship still be targeted.
James Halsall, Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches and Pastoral Secretary, said: “With over 478 church buildings 95%, listed as historic or architecturally important, the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich has part of the greatest concentration of medieval churches in the world.
“These buildings contain the historic memories of the communities they have served for centuries as well as being places of worship and gathering today.”
Temporary Chief Constable Gareth Wilson said: “It is really important for us to work together to prevent these crimes, and officers have been liaising closely with Church officials. The launch of the pack supports this ongoing work.
“The pack gives guidance and advice about the steps that can be taken to prevent thefts and also encourages local communities to get involved in safeguarding their local church by being our eyes and ears and reporting unusual behaviour.
“Residents have an important part to play in helping us prevent lead thefts, and to assist us in catching those responsible, and we would continue to ask anyone who notices any suspicious activity in the vicinity of a church to call 999 immediately.”
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore added: “Our beautiful buildings need to be cherished and we must do whatever we can to combat heritage crime.
“The dedicated rural crime team is doing an excellent job. This team, supported by Suffolk’s two dedicated rural Special Constabulary units, has a very good understanding of the negative impact heritage crime has in rural areas.
“We all have a role to play to protect our county’s beautiful churches but so often they are in remote areas so I would urge everyone to keep their eyes peeled and report any suspicious activity.”
The Reverend Chris Childs, of St Mary’s Church, said: “There has been a remarkable amount of support from people who have never come to the church.
“It’s a special building in the area and they want to see that maintained.”
Curate Rachel Cornish added that she hoped the document would see words turned into action.
Churches who would like more information about the new self assessment security pack should call Mr Halsall on 01473 298533 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively they can visit www.cofesuffolk.org to get the document.