An investigation into lead theft and criminal activity on local churches in the UK, has found 160 reported crimes in Bedfordshire since 2017.
An investigation by Countryside Alliance found that churches in and around the county are not only being targeted for their lead, of which there were four recorded cases, but that there were also over 48 ‘general’ thefts, including four bicycle thefts in the past 3 years.
Of the 45 police forces included in the investigation, Bedfordshire was among 13% of forces whose lead thefts were in single figures. The vast majority had experienced far higher incidences of lead-related thefts.
Churches in the county have been subject to 37 counts of criminal damage since 201, including four cases of Arson. There are also 13 cases of violence against a person, including two sexual offences and one rape as being recorded in a ‘churchyard, cemetery or crematorium’ and one possession of weapon case.
In neighbouring Hertfordshire, 232 total crimes were reported in the same time period, while Cambridgeshire saw 224 reported crimes, including 22 cases of criminal damage.
Across the UK, 19,493 crimes have been committed at churches and religious buildings, after 40 of 45 UK police forces responded to the FOI request from the Countryside Alliance.
Mo Metcalf- Fisher of the Countryside Alliance said “These figures paint a bleak picture of criminal attacks on our churches and religious buildings in Bedfordshire and across the country as a whole.
“As a society, irrespective of faith or none, we need to be much more vigilant when it comes to watching over churches and places of worship by reporting suspicious activity. It serves as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote.”
The Church of England’s director of churches and cathedrals, Becky Clark said, “While these things are undoubtedly very damaging…we’re still looking at the majority of churches being safe places that are open to their communities.”
Sergeant Simon Butler, from Bedfordshire Police’s North Rural Community Team said: “Our force has a dedicated team which works within rural communities to provide support and reassurance.
“We understand the sorrow lead theft causes, as churches have a historic legacy and remain at the centre of many communities.
“In any case where the roof is stolen, the parish suffers the financial strain of replacing it. This kind of crime also causes the artefacts and furnishings inside the place of worship to be left unprotected and can cause devastating weather damage.
“Priceless pieces of art and antiques can also be lost forever.
“As a deterrent, our force is engaging with our communities to ensure high visibility around significant locations. We speak to the residents to see if there has been any recent suspicious activity in the area.
“We also work cross-border with neighbouring forces to ensure that if there is any rise in thefts from churchyards, we can increase our presence to discourage potential offenders.
“My officers and I work with scrap metal dealers to see if they were approached to purchase suspicious metal and lead, while we also highlight offences that may be committed when dealers purchase stolen metals.
“Tackling this kind of crime must be a joint effort between the police and the community and we would encourage our residents and businesses to come forward if they witness anything suspicious in their area.”
There is a number of steps that can be taken to protect local landmarks becoming victims of this crime
- Churches are encouraged to consider fitting CCTV in the access points to the location
- Use climb proof paint where possible
- Consider joining local Neighbourhood Watch or Faith Watch Schemes
- Always question any suspicious behaviour
- Challenge people with heavy equipment and wearing high visibility jackets are they there to carry out genuine building work?
Anyone with information is asked to contact the police by calling 101 or by visiting the online reporting centre on the Bedfordshire Police website. If you witness a crime in progress always dial 999.
Alternatively you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555 111.