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Would-be lead thief scared off after triggering infrared church roof alarm

PUBLISHED: 17:25 31 December 2018 | UPDATED: 17:26 31 December 2018

St Andrews Church, at Northwold  Picture: Chris Bishop

St Andrews Church, at Northwold Picture: Chris Bishop

Archant

A would-be lead thief fled from an historic church after setting off its roof alarm.

A sign at St Andrews Church, Northwold, warning of security measures  Picture: Chris BishopA sign at St Andrews Church, Northwold, warning of security measures Picture: Chris Bishop

St Andrew’s Church in Northwold, between Downham Market and Thetford, was targeted in the early hours of Monday.

But little damage was caused before the suspect was caught on an infrared camera.

Police raced to the scene after the device picked up movement at around 1am, with CCTV cameras showing images of a person on the roof.

After triggering a siren, the monitoring station informed the church treasurer who quickly raised the alarm. Police and a fire crew were on the scene in minutes.

Norfolk Police and Norfolk Fire and Rescue on the scene after reports of a person stealing lead in Northwold. Picture: Breckland PoliceNorfolk Police and Norfolk Fire and Rescue on the scene after reports of a person stealing lead in Northwold. Picture: Breckland Police

They found lead had been ripped away from the wooden beams, ready to be taken off the roof.

Tim Elliott, St Andrew’s Church treasurer, said the church had recently finished a £250,000 renovation before the thief or thieves struck.

He said: “They had made a start and they had bent some lead back but nothing had been taken. It seems that the alarm scared him off. The siren dissuaded them from carrying on.

“It is very distressing when somebody damages a church. If they would have taken it all it would have been a massive hit but I think we might have noticed before they could have done so as the church is in the middle of the town.”

Cliff Anderson, vice-chair of Northwold and Whittington Parish Council, said the attempted theft was an attack on the wider community in the village, not just those who use and volunteer at the church.

He said: “It is an important part of the village and, for a lot of people even if they don’t attend services, if there is any damage or anything stolen from the church a lot of people from the village would be very upset and annoyed about it.”

Parts of the modern St Andrew’s Church date back to the early 1200s, making the church at least 800 years old and a vital connection to the history of the village and the surrounding area.

Mr Anderson added: “It is an iconic building. It dates back to the medieval times and recently there has been some medieval paintings revealed under the paint on part of the walls.

“It is always a concern, the value of the lead on the roof is great enough to make people risk the taking of it. It is an easy target.”

Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner Lorne Greene, said stopping lead thefts remains his “absolute priority” going forward in 2019.

Two years ago, the commissioner’s office provided £100,000 to help churches install alarms on their roofs.

Mr Greene said: “I put considerable money to get this scheme rolling and I have to see what other partners can come up with, such as the Diocese, to see what to do going forward.

“These churches are the jewels in the crown of Norfolk and we all have a responsibility to safeguard them for the future.

“This is a shared heritage we all have and my heart bleeds when ever I hear of an attack on our heritage.”

A total of £250,000 from the PCC’s office, the Diocese of Norwich, and other partnership organisations alongside more than £20,000 from public donations has helped install more than 70 alarms similar to the one installed on the roof of St Andrew’s Church.

The alarm on the church in Northwold was paid for by the parish council.

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