Metal thieves strike a Norfolk church a week for six weeks
- Credit: IAN BURT
Church leaders have spoken of the devastating costs faced when Norfolk's historic buildings are targeted by thieves after a spate of lead thefts across the county.
Five churches have been targeted by thieves in six incidents in as many weeks – the latest of which has been at what is believed to be Stephen Fry's favourite church, St Peter and St Paul in Salle, near Reepham.
The thefts have seen lead worth up to £20,000 stolen from the historic buildings on each occasion.
Funding to replace the expensive metal has to then come out of the church's own coffers and money raised by their communities.
St Mary's Church in Narford, near Swaffham, was the first to be struck in the six-week string of offending in two separate thefts in late July and late August.
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Thieves then targeted St Peter and St Paul's Church in Carbrooke, near Watton, St Peter's Church in Guestwick, near Reepham, and St Mary's Church in Cranwich, near Mundford. St Peter and St Paul Church in Salle became the latest victim when £18,000 worth of lead, which weighed two tonnes, was stolen from the roof of the northern side of the building at some point between 10pm on Saturday and 7am on Sunday. Church officials said the theft happened after 50 or 60 people had enjoyed an evening concert at the church by young Korean pianist Tian-yu Zhou on Saturday.
The roof was said to be intact after the 15th-century church was locked up that night and it was during communion on the following morning when estate manager Poul Hovesen made the congregation aware that the lead had been stolen.
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It is believed the thieves made their get-away by crossing the field on the north side of the churchyard as part-harvested bean stalks were dragged onto the road.
Churchwarden Jolyon Booth said: 'The lead is 100 years old and the church was built in 1540. Fifteenth century listed building repairs are costly and we recently spent £200,000 on improving the exclusion of water - that's the kind of expense we face.'
Lead worth between £10,000 and £20,000 was stolen from St Mary's Church in Narford between July 29 and 30, and August 28 and 29.
Carbrooke's church was stripped of its lead between August 18 and 19 and Guestwick's between September 1 and 2. An iron gate was stolen from St Mary's Church in Cranwich between September 4 and 7.
The Rev Canon Stuart Nairn, from St Mary's Church in Narford, said: 'The community is the real victim in this. We have worked very hard to restore our church which was near to collapse when I came to the village almost 26 years ago and now we have to start again as the insurance does not cover the cost of getting the roof fixed.'
Norfolk police said they were keeping an open mind as to whether or not the thefts were linked, and urged local communities to be vigilant and to look out for any suspicious activity.
Temporary Det Ch Insp Andy Ninham said: 'These crimes cause more than a financial loss they disrupt local communities and damage our national heritage.'
He said the thefts were being investigated by the police's Operation Radar Team, which investigates metal thefts.
• Call Norfolk police on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
• Have you been hit by lead thefts? Email email@example.com