Church pleads: Stop the thefts

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THE Government is under fire for doing too little to protect Lincolnshire’s churches from lead thieves who are causing “irreparable damage” to our heritage.

A new task force will tackle metal thefts but critics say it doesn’t go far enough to protect churches or make any real headway into criminal attacks on ‘wires and pipes’ owned by energy companies.

So far this year there have been more than 160 attacks on Lincolnshire churches.

Metal thefts – such as church lead, copper power cables and tools – total 4,600 this year, making up 15 per cent of all Lincolnshire’s reported crime.

Chancellor George Osborne on Tuesday announced the setting up of a £5 million taskforce led by British Transport Police to target metal thieves and crooked scrap metal dealers.

But church leaders and energy companies say tougher action is needed – and a new law should be passed to force scrap yards to move to a cashless system so all payments can be traced.

The Archdeacon of Lincoln, the Ven Tim Barker, has the whole of South Holland under his wing and says rural communities are struggling to cope with repeated attacks on churches.

Mr Barker said: “We hope the Government will be very conscious of the irreparable damage that is being done to churches and other heritage buildings and the very serious impact this is having, particularly on small rural communities.”

Some communities are switching to coated stainless steel to roof churches – and that means the loss of a centuries old tradition of using lead.

As well as having lead stripped, churches are suffering costly rainwater damage to internal fittings and the church at Wigtoft had its organ wrecked in that way.

Mr Barker said: “At the moment people turning up at scrapyards walk away with a fistful of fivers.

“ The industry has got to accept that this is unacceptable and we have got to move to a completely traceable system for all transactions.”

Energy Networks Association boss David Smith also called for a change in the “outdated law of Steptoe and Son” so scrapyards work on a cashless system.

Lincolnshire Police chief inspector Mark Housley said the taskforce will help disrupt criminal networks – including scrap dealers – and benefit all suffering metal thefts. County police are also targeting scrap yards.