'Thieves must not force church lockouts'

THE senior bishop in Suffolk last night spelt out his determination that the county's churches would remain open during the day despite a “disturbing” spate of thefts and vandalism possibly linked to drugs.

By John Howard

THE senior bishop in Suffolk last night spelt out his determination that the county's churches would remain open during the day despite a “disturbing” spate of thefts and vandalism possibly linked to drugs.

At least nine churches in Suffolk have been targeted in recent months, with some vandalised while others have seen small amounts of cash and valuables taken.

But last night, the Right Reverend Richard Lewis, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said they would not be swayed from their open door policy despite the attacks - which have been linked to people funding drugs habits.

He said: "The recent spate of burglaries is disturbing. Many people work hard to maintain churches and keep them open for everyone. Damage and vandalism is very frustrating to all those who work to maintain the church building as a place of quiet and prayer.

"As a diocese we will continue to encourage all parochial church councils to keep churches open.'

Most Read

Nine churches, including one near Southwold and four near Halesworth, have been attacked, with burglars often taking or attempting to steal collection or charity boxes, often with only a few pence in them.

Nick Clarke, St Edmundsbury and Ipswich diocesan communications director, said thefts from churches were distressing and frustrating.

He said the cost of repairing the damage is usually greater than the amount the thieves get away with.

But Mr Clarke said: “A locked door is more of a come-on to a thief than an open one. Our advice is to lock away valuables in a safe and to empty collection boxes regularly.

“Keeping churches open is part of the Church's work in the community, by offering quiet spaces they play an important part of their mission to Suffolk.''

His views were echoed by The Rev Simon Ward, of Reydon, who was disgusted at an attack on his 14th Century St Margaret's Church in Reydon.

Offenders appear to have kicked in the back of a rear pew to steal a box attached to its back in March and he is still waiting for repair work to be carried out.

“They left a fair bit of carnage in their wake. I did not know how much they got away with but the damage caused runs into hundreds of pounds and that is what is really irritating.

“But it's a busy church - there's always people around and the benefits of keeping it open for the community far out-weigh the inconvenience caused by thieves.

“We are taking advice from our insurers and we are making our congregation and the wider community aware of the incidents, as the church is very much part of community.”

The Rev Edward Rennard is team rector of the Blyth Valley Team Ministry, which includes St Peter's churches in Wenhaston, Holton and Thorington and All Saints in Blyford - all subjected to attacks over the last two months.

He said: “Churches should be available for people to sit and prey or just sit and be. Taking boxes is a waste of time as they are usually empty and the repairing of the damage is far more than what's in the boxes.”

A spokesman for Ecclesiastical Insurance, which insures more than 90% of Anglican buildings, said churches could consider using transparent donation boxes, so people can see there is little to steal, and empty the boxes regularly.

Brian King, spokesman for the company, said: “I am not surprised churches are targeted. There is a new breed of thieves these days, people after enough money for their next drugs fix.

“They do not really care where they get the money from, churches are just on their list. A lot of people do not respect church buildings, but there are enough who do for it still to shock those who hear of it.''

Police are currently carrying out a number of enquiries to trace the offenders and have contacted many local churches to give security advice.

A police spokeswoman said: “It's a heinous crime and a worrying trend. We would ask people to report incidents to us as soon as possible and ask all local residents who live near rural churches or visit them to report any suspicious behaviour in churches or near churches by calling 999. This will allow us to react quickly, get there and see if we can catch offenders.”

Anyone with information about any of the burglaries should contact Beccles CID on 01986 835300.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter