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Nearly 250 thefts reported from Suffolk churches over the past three years

PUBLISHED: 05:30 24 January 2019 | UPDATED: 08:21 24 January 2019

The Rev Peter Goodridge at St John's Church in Elmswell 

Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

The Rev Peter Goodridge at St John's Church in Elmswell Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Archant

Nearly 250 thefts from Suffolk’s churches have been reported to police over the past three years, it has been revealed.

St Mary and St Botolph parish church in Whitton, Ipswich, which was broken into. Inset is Revd Mary Sokanovic, priest in charge Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARYSt Mary and St Botolph parish church in Whitton, Ipswich, which was broken into. Inset is Revd Mary Sokanovic, priest in charge Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

The figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by this newspaper, show a total of 238 incidents of theft from the county’s churches from January 2015 to December 2018.

During a spike in lead roof thefts in the county in 2015, when dozens of churches were targeted, police solved 53 out of 79 cases – a clear rate of 67%.

But from 2016 to 2018, only seven thefts out of 159 have been resolved – a 4% clear-up rate – with no suspects identified in 137 of those cases.

Silverware, along with hundreds of records of births, deaths and marriages, was stolen from St Mary and St Botolph’s church in Whitton, Ipswich, when a safe was taken in December 2017.

Lead was stripped from the roof of St John's Church in Elmswell  in November 2017 Picture: PETER GOODRIDGELead was stripped from the roof of St John's Church in Elmswell in November 2017 Picture: PETER GOODRIDGE

The records were eventually recovered and one teenager was jailed for 26 weeks for receiving stolen goods in the incident.

MORE: ‘Delight’ as records of births, marriages and deaths stolen from Whitton church are found in field

Reverend Mary Sokanovic, the priest in charge of the church, said: “Initially my feeling was one of shock and great sadness.

“I was speaking to an elderly gentleman at the weekend, not a member of the congregation but someone who had lived in Whitton all his life, and he said ‘we got up to all sorts of things but we would never dare do anything to the church, it’s a special place’.

“I felt a sadness for what was lost of course but also the question as to why. It was an awful lot of damage for very little gain.”

The new stainless steel roof at St John's Church in Elmswell, which was completed in November Picture: ST JOHN'S CHURCHThe new stainless steel roof at St John's Church in Elmswell, which was completed in November Picture: ST JOHN'S CHURCH

Four tonnes of lead was stripped from the roof of St John’s Church in Elmswell, near Bury St Edmunds, on Remembrance weekend in 2017, which left the building severely damaged by rain.

MORE: Churchgoers arrive for Remembrance service to find roof stripped of lead

Work was completed on a new stainless steel in November, costing in the region of £40,000 - the majority of which was paid through insurance.

Reverend Peter Goodridge said: “I was disappointed and sad that people feel they have to do this for money.

“There’s no respect for historic buildings or places of worship. The new roof was finished in November but there is still some internal decorating to be done, which will completed in March.”

The new stainless steel roof at St John's Church in Elmswell, which was completed in November Picture: ST JOHN'S CHURCHThe new stainless steel roof at St John's Church in Elmswell, which was completed in November Picture: ST JOHN'S CHURCH

A collection box, containing less than £10, was stolen from St Mary’s at the Elm Church, in Elm Street, Ipswich, in August, 2018, and damage was caused to the plastering on connecting walls during the incident.

Father John Thackray, priest in charge, said: “There is a feeling of dismay, as for many people a church is seen as the symbol of a village.

“There’s the distress it causes through the inconvenience of it all, but for people who are unfortunate enough to have a chalice or something stolen, there’s a sense of history being erased.”

A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: “It is concerning that places of worship are subject to crime and we would encourage members of the public to inform us of any suspicious activity in or around church sites by calling 101, or 999 if a crime is in progress.

St Mary at the Elms in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSt Mary at the Elms in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“We fully appreciate such crimes can be very upsetting and distressing, particularly for those communities directly affected.

“We regularly give security guidance and crime reduction advice to those responsible for church buildings to help them to reduce the chances of becoming a victim.”

The spokesman added: “When investigating burglaries, one of the challenges we face is the fact that investigative opportunities can be limited, but we constantly review all crime being reported to us to ensure we deploy our resources effectively based on the threat, harm and risk posed. We also carry out targeted campaigns and operations when and where necessary.”


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