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Campaigners fear churches have become 'easy targets' for criminals

Campaigners fear churches have become ‘easy targets’ for criminals with more than 4,000 offences – including criminal damage, arson and the theft of a bronze statue of Jesus Christ – recorded on church grounds

  • More than 4,000 crimes were recorded at churched in the 12 months before July
  • There are concerns that churches have now become ‘easy targets’ for criminals 
  • South-east England was the worst hit with Sussex Police recording 367 crimes
  • In May, a bronze cross was stolen from All Saints Church in Gosforth, Newcastle

Campaigners fear churches have become ‘easy targets’ for criminals with more than 10 crimes a day recorded at places of worship during the coronavirus pandemic.

The shocking figures show churches have been hit by a wave of criminal damage attacks, thefts and violence over the last year.

More than 4,000 crimes were recorded in the 12 months to July this year despite eight months of lockdown restrictions.

There are concerns that pandemic lockdowns have seen criminals focus on churches because they are deemed to be ‘softer targets’.

Figures show churches have been hit by criminal damage attacks and thefts. In Caldecote, Hertfordshire, vandals smashed the church windows of St Mary Magdalene’s (pictured)

Crimes include rape, arson, drug trafficking and violent attacks with 39 of the UK’s 45 police forces responding to Freedom of Information requests by the Countryside Alliance.

There were 4,170 incidents including 1,356 cases of theft or burglary, 1,688 incidents of criminal damage, at least 115 lead thefts and 823 violent attacks.

The worst-hit areas are largely in the south-east of England with Sussex Police recording 367 crimes, Kent 209 cases and the Metropolitan Police 575.

In Sussex police recorded six sexual assaults including a rape in churchyards while there was another alleged rape of an underage girl and three sex offences in cemeteries.

Other offences include thieves stealing lead from the roof of St Saviour’s Church in Eastbourne last year and vandalising its war memorial.

In May, a bronze cross including a sculpture of Jesus Christ was also stolen from All Saints Church in Gosforth, Newcastle, with a £1,000 reward issued for its return.

In May, a bronze cross including a sculpture of Jesus Christ was also stolen from All Saints Church in Gosforth, Newcastle, with a £1,000 reward issued for its return

Last year, a vicar at Chadwell Heath Baptist Church in east London tackled a vandal trying to rip a cross off the church roof and held him until police arrived to arrest the suspect.

And in Caldecote, Hertfordshire, vandals smashed the church windows of 15th century St Mary Magdalene’s in August, which had just reopened after paying £150,000 to repair criminal damage.

Since 2017 the Countryside Alliance has catalogued 30,169 crimes committed on church premises from police data.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher, of the Countryside Alliance said: ‘We are presented with a grim reality that many churches and places of worship are being treated as easy targets by criminals.

‘These are supposed to be places where people go to seek solace, but all too often they subjected to heinous crimes, either in or on their property.

‘We cannot allow these precious places, which are often the centre of villages and towns across the country, to go unguarded and be so exposed.

‘Irrespective of faith, having the public keep an ever watchful eye on churches and reporting suspicious behaviour to police is vital as is easy access protective funding schemes.’

There are concerns that pandemic lockdowns have seen criminals focus on churches. Pictured: Smashed windows at 15th century St Mary Magdalene’s in Caldecote in August

A Church of England spokeswoman said: ‘The Church of England has nearly 16,000 buildings and is a presence in every community, it provides a space that is available to all that includes churchyards.

‘Crime on church premises is not always crime directed against the church. We encourage churches to engage with the police and others over crime on their premises.’

Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Nolan, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for heritage crime, said: ‘Metal theft is still a problem that blights all aspects of society and the targeting of churches for metal is one area in which we work closely with heritage organisations across the UK to help protect potential victims of crime.

‘Over the last twelve months there have been two national weeks of intensification focused on metal crime, leading to thousands of items of stolen property being recovered, hundreds of arrests and the disruption of criminal activity in the waste industry.

‘This work continues and while we have seen a reduction in metal crime nationally, we have a renewed focus to ensure that those who engage in thefts of these types have nowhere to run.’

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