Village church becomes latest hit in series of lead thefts

Groton Church north aisle - lead partly stripped

Groton Church north aisle - lead partly stripped - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk church has become the ninth in recent weeks to be targeted by lead thieves.

The theft from St Bartholomew’s Church, Groton, near Boxford, follows eight similar crimes across the county since St Mary’s Church in Combs, near Stowmarket, became the first historic building hit on August 23.

The latest was discovered by a dog walker, who spotted pieces of lead and indentations in the grass outside the church on Saturday morning.

Church secretary, David Lamming said: “We are all shocked in the parish at this desecration of yet another historic church by thieves who plainly have no thought or regard for the impact of their crime on church members and the local community, let alone the cost of repair.”

Mr Lamming said alarms were now being fitted and that local people were being vigilant and reporting any sightings of strange vehicles.

The Combs theft was followed by others in Lavenham, Stratford St Mary, Parham, Dennington and Hundon.

Repeat thefts were then discovered at All Saints Church, Chevington, which was hit almost a year ago to the day, and at St Mary’s Church, Hawkedon, last targeted in July.

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Reverend for both churches, Cheryl Collins said the problem was not helped by current ecclesiastical insurance policies only paying the first £7,000 of a claim if no suitable alarm is installed, meaning the cost of an alarm could end up exceeding the liability for the stolen lead.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk police said the latest theft in Groton was thought to have happened between 5pm on October 2 and 9am the following morning. She said: “Offenders climbed onto the vestry roof and managed to climb onto the north aisle rooftop, from where they threw sheets of lead, causing damage to a stone buttress.”

The Alarms for Churches Appeal was launched by the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust (SHCT) on September 22 to help churches cover the cost of having alarms installed by providing grants of up to £2,500, with the first 10 churches to apply guaranteed a share of funding.

John Howard, spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: “It is devastating when a church loses lead from the roof to thieves, typically costing thousands of pounds to replace. There is also then repair work needed and this all puts pressure on our congregations.

“But there are things that can be done to stop thieves, that do not cost huge sums. It is imperative that lead roofs are marked with a product such as Smartwater and Parochial Church Councils consider having roof alarms fitted, for about £5,000, as many do now have. The cost of these measures are minuscule compared to the cost of replacing a lead roof.

“We would ask that any unusual activity and registration numbers of suspicious vehicles are reported to Suffolk Constabulary and at Groton church the parishioners are even more conscious of this than usual in light of the latest incident.”

If you can help police with their enquires into the latest thefts, or any of the previous thefts, call 101 with information.