Romanian gang who stripped lead from rural churches jailed
A prolific gang who stripped the lead from dozens of rural churches across England have been jailed for a total of 22 years.
The four Romanian men, who were all living in the West Midlands, targeted churches from Somerset to North Yorkshire during a two-year crime spree which left churches facing repair bills totalling more than £2million.
Among those counties hit hardest during the two-year crime spree were Lincolnshire, Somerset, Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire.
The thieves also took lead from churches in Dorset, Wiltshire, Suffolk, Leicestershire and Derbyshire.
In March last year police arrested three of the men, all living in the West Midlands, after a specialist operation involving several forces.
In total the four entered guilty pleas to 66 offences of theft from churches and two former churches.
Judge Catarina Sjolin Knight said: 'This was an organised, sophisticated and persistent operation which targeted country churches across England for their lead. Each theft required significant planning and team work both to conduct the theft.
'The harm was high because of the heavy consequential financial losses occasioned by the thefts, the impact on the local and wider community and the damage to heritage assets.'
The churches attacked were located in Lincolnshire, Humberside, Derbyshire, Cambridgeshire, Wiltshire and Avon & Somerset. Lincolnshire as a county was particularly hard hit.
Among the churches which fell victim in Lincolnshire were St Nicholas in Normanton, St Lawrence in Tallington, St Mary & St Nicholas at Wrangle, St Andrew in Billingborough, St Swithins at Baumber and St Bartholomew at Covenham St Bartholomew.
The damage to the latter church was valued at more than £250,000.
The loss of the lead on the churches caused water ingress which damaged their interiors.
The gang used hire vehicles, many of which had tracking devices which provided evidence for the police as to exactly where they had been.
The lead was rolled up from the roof and thrown onto the ground sometimes damaging gravestones in the churchyard.
The gang sold it within hours to a recycling business in Birmingham receiving thousands of pounds in payments made directly into their bank accounts
The individual churches were each left to foot the repair bills themselves as many could only obtain insurance cover for damage up to £7,500 and others were unable to obtain any insurance.