Three men plead guilty to more than 30 charges of theft from churches
Three men have today (Friday) admitted stealing lead from dozens of churches across south Lincolnshire and other parts of England.
Paul Buica (25) and Luarentiu Sucea (38), both of George Street, Birmingham, along with Constantin Motescu (31) of Stebbings, Sutton Hill, Telford, were arrested by police after an operation involving several forces in March.
All three men appeared at Lincoln Crown Court by videolink where guilty pleas were entered for over 30 offences of theft from churches and two former churches.
Among those churches targeted in Lincolnshire were St Lawrence's in Tallington and St Andrew's in Billingborough.
Other counties to be hit were Somerset, East Yorkshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire.
The arrests followed a joint investigation between Lincolnshire Police, Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Humberside Police.
In total Buica pleaded guilty to 16 theft offences, Motescu admitted to 23 theft offences and Sucea pleaded guilty to 13 theft offences.
All three men entered their guilty pleas through a Romanian interpreter, with all the offences having occurred between May 2018 and March this year.
Michael Cranmer-Brown, prosecuting, said the Crown Prosecution Service would no longer pursue a charge of converting criminal property against the three men as it would not be in the public interest given their guilty pleas to offences relating to the majority of churches which suffered thefts.
Judge Catarina Sjolin Knight adjourned sentence until October 9 and remanded all three men back into custody.
They will be sentenced alongside a fourth man, Mihai Birtu (23), of Port Street, Evesham, who was arrested by police earlier this month.
Birtu is due to appear at Lincoln Crown Court on September 25 after he was charged with 21 offences of stealing lead from churches around the country.
During 2019 Lincolnshire Police set up a dedicated team to work with the Diocese of Lincoln after a spike in lead theft cases.
Chief Inspector Phil Vickers, force lead for rural crime at Lincolnshire Police, said: "Lincolnshire Police worked with the diocese and individual churches across the county, providing site-specific advice to 53 premises, as well as broader guidance to prevent offending.
"This was in addition to several hundred site visits that had been carried out previously.
"The impact of these offences goes well beyond the significant financial cost.
"Communities have felt a great sense of loss at the damage caused to their heritage and increased vulnerability due to the rural nature of many of the premises.
"We know that in addition to the loss of lead, extensive damage has been caused to the fabric of the buildings by water ingress during bad weather.
"We continue to work with rural communities to prevent offending and encourage anyone seeing or hearing anything suspicious at heritage sites, particularly at night but also during the day, to contact police immediately."