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Roof raider devastation and renewal - one village church’s reason to celebrate

PUBLISHED: 14:59 05 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:40 05 November 2017

Rev Canon Paul Thomas, of St Mary’s Church, Erpingham. The church has just had its roof repaired after lead was stolen from it earlier in the year. Picture: Stuart Anderson

Rev Canon Paul Thomas, of St Mary’s Church, Erpingham. The church has just had its roof repaired after lead was stolen from it earlier in the year. Picture: Stuart Anderson

Archant

It was a heartless crime that undid months of hard work and dedication in a small village.

Churchwardens Helen Burrell and Colin Willis put protective sheeting over Erpingham church's organ, just before the start of a major restoration project last year. Just seven weeks after the project was finished, roof raiders stuck. Picture: KAREN BETHELL Churchwardens Helen Burrell and Colin Willis put protective sheeting over Erpingham church's organ, just before the start of a major restoration project last year. Just seven weeks after the project was finished, roof raiders stuck. Picture: KAREN BETHELL

But as the gang responsible for stripping their church roof of lead was jailed, the community of Erpingham, in north Norfolk, can now celebrate repairing the damage.

Rev Canon Paul Thomas, of St Mary’s Church, said the scaffolding had just been removed after repairs at the place of worship, which was built around 1400.

Roof raiders struck St Mary’s on May 9 this year and fled after an alarm went off.

But they returned to the church on May 16, stealing lead and leaving a replacement bill of £30,000.

St Mary's Church, Erpingham. Picture: KAREN BETHELL St Mary's Church, Erpingham. Picture: KAREN BETHELL

Four members of the gang were jailed for a combined total of 10 years and 10 months at Norwich Crown Court in July.

MORE: Volunteers rally to save Erpingham church

And last week Remus Tudorache, who carried out scouting missions to identify vulnerable churches around Norfolk for two different gangs, was imprisoned for five years and one month.

The Rev Thomas said: “One of (the gang) described it as a victimless crime, but this was anything but.

Remus Tudorache. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary Remus Tudorache. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

“It does show that communities take churches very much to heart and hold them in great esteem.

The Rev Thomas said the raid came just seven weeks after the completion of an £80,000 restoration of the church, which saw the community rally around to fundraise and carry out improvements such as painting, plastering and adding facilities including a toilet.

He said: “It was a fantastic community effort and it was not just church people either - it was everyone from the village who cared for the church. We even had 70 and 80-year-olds up ladders doing all this work.

MORE: Four who stole lead from Erpingham and Baconsthorpe churches left communities ‘totally crushed and devastated’

“People had been doing bridge afternoons and craft mornings, so many things to help raise money for it. So you can just imagine how devastating it was to everyone who had given up their time and energy to do that when we found out about the lead theft.”

Now the roof has been replaced with stainless steel, which the Rev Thomas said he hoped would deter further raiders.

He said: “I don’t wish (the roof raiders) any ill, but I hope they have learned a lesson.”

This newspaper has a campaign called Stop The Roof Raiders, which aims to raise awareness of this region-wide issue.

MORE: Gangster who stripped lead from churches put behind bars

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