Lead thefts from Gosberton and Bicker churches are linked to others 'around the A1 corridor', police have said
Police believe they are close to catching a gang behind at least 31 lead thefts from churches in south and west Lincolnshire over an eight-month period.
One person has been arrested and bailed in connection with the thefts of what police described as “substantial quantities of lead” from churches, including Gosberton and Bicker.
Both churches were hit in May when, firstly, St Peter and St Paul’s in Gosberton had an estimated 12 tonnes of lead stripped from its roof on consecutive nights, causing damage of at least £60,000.
St Swithun’s, Bicker, was also targeted as thieves tore away lead from its North Chancel roof, with both churches having Grade I-listed status.
The full toll of lead thefts across the county so far was spelled out in a statement from the Diocese of Lincoln which said: “There have been 23 churches affected by lead theft so far this year, compared to 12 for the whole of 2018.
“Lead theft has a devastating effect on parishes as replacing a roof is a significant financial burden, with larger sections costing as much as £40,000 to £50,000 to replace.
“However, insurance claims fall substantially short of the total funds required which leaves the church councils affected needing to spend time working on funding applications, rather than practising ministry and mission in their community.”
Chief Inspector Phil Vickers, force lead for rural crime at Lincolnshire Police, said: “Between January 1 and August 31 this year, Lincolnshire suffered 31 offences where substantial quantities of lead were stolen from church premises.
“The majority were on the west and south of the county, with these thefts being linked to others outside of Lincolnshire, mainly around the A1 corridor.
“The offences at Gosberton and Bicker are still under active investigation and, as a result, we were able to take action that I believe resulted in the series of thefts being brought to an end.
“One person has been arrested and is currently on bail to attend Grantham Police Station while further enquires are being progressed.”
Mr Vickers offered his support to the churches affected, describing the thefts as “offences against our heritage and which cause considerable distress in our communities”.
“Lincolnshire Police officers live in these villages, so we absolutely recognise the impact that these offences have on the communities involved,” Mr Vickers said.
“Churches are a focal point of our communities, not just as places of worship but also where people come together for friendship.
“These buildings play an absolutely key role in our way life, so when someone comes along and damages our heritage, it feels personal.
“Although it’s not possible to talk about everything we are doing as our enquiries progress, we can say that 31 offences of this nature are far too many and we would continue to ask people to call us if and when they see anything suspicious.”
, Church members and supporters of St Swithun's, Bicker, have seen their worries about its roof wiped out by a windfall of nearly £100,000.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund has offered to pay £99,700 towards replacing the church's North Chancel roof, parts of which had lead stolen from it in May.
Funds will also help towards replacing the main nave roof over the central section of the 12th century church with one of stainless steel, coated with an alloy of lead and tin called terne.
Dr Martin Salisbury, from the Friends of St Swithun's, said: "We're absolutely over the moon and there's a team of 12 to 14 people in our group who are passionate about delivering the community project that the National Lottery Heritage Fund has asked us for.
"I discovered the lead theft in May when I arrived at the church and there was daylight above my head which there shouldn't have been.
"It was very, very disappointing, but the Friends of St Swithun's were dedicated to supporting the church and we're just days away from receiving the planning permission needed for the roof work to go ahead.
"In the meantime, we're raring to go and ready to kick off the community project."
A National Lottery Heritage Fund spokesman said: "We awarded a grant of £99,700 to St Swithin’s Church in to replace dilapidated and stolen lead roofs on the Grade I-listed Anglican church in Bicker.
"As part of this, a parallel programme of activities will be running to investigate, celebrate and conserve community heritage."