Five men have been jailed for their part in theft of lead from 20 churches, including Quadring, Sutterton and Lutton, causing up to £1million damage.
Lincolnshire Police say the convictions and prison terms are the biggest success in the fight against heritage crime in Britain so far.
Vidas Andruska (pictured) was handed seven years after being found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to steal – and three men were given four years after pleading guilty to the same offence.
They were Andrius Cereska, Tadas Andruska and Audrius Kvedaras.
Nerijus Razma was handed 22 months after he was found not guilty of conspiracy to steal but pleaded guilty to theft.
A sixth man – Vitalijus Viksys – received a six month prison term, suspended for two years, with 180 hours unpaid work after pleading guilty to handling stolen goods.
All the gang members live in Lincoln.
Speaking after the sentencing yesterday (Thursday), Detective Inspector Keith Blakey said: “This is a fantastic result for the people of Lincolnshire and it demonstrates the effectiveness of Lincolnshire Police’s Operation Brompton, which was launched to tackle lead theft in the county.
“These thieves targeted some of the most important heritage sites in the heart of our rural communities, causing huge amounts of damage to religious buildings and leading to a great deal of upset among congregations.”
The gang were caught when police stopped two vehicles. Five of the men were present and had stolen lead with them.
The following month, while on bail, two of the men were caught and arrested again while trying to weigh in more stolen lead at a scrap yard.
“Smart Water” on the lead linked it to a county church. The rest of the men were identified through evidence including mobile phone records, scrap metal records and a cigarette butt left on one of the church roofs.
Among other churches targeted were St Peter and St Paul, Algarkirk, St Peter and St Paul, Gosberton, and St Leodegar’s, Wyberton.