'Not just lead thefts': More than 400 crimes involving churches in Northamptonshire in past three years

A 'bleak' picture - that is how the number of crimes reported at churches in Northamptonshire since the start of 2017 has been described.

An investigation into roof lead theft and criminal activity on churches by the Countryside Alliance found 428 crimes in the county in the past three years.

St Andrew's Church in Great Billing was left with a hole in the ceiling after thieves stole lead from its roof last year

St Andrew's Church in Great Billing was left with a hole in the ceiling after thieves stole lead from its roof last year

A Freedom of Information Act request to Northamptonshire Police revealed religious buildings are not just being targeted by criminals for lead but also a variety of other crimes have been recorded.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher, from the Countryside Alliance, said “These figures paint a bleak picture of criminal attacks on our churches and religious buildings in Northamptonshire and across the country as a whole.

"As a society, irrespective of faith or none, we need to be much more vigilant when it comes to watching over churches and places of worship by reporting suspicious activity.

"It serves as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote.”

The investigation took place after several complaints were made to the Countryside Alliance from members who were concerned that nothing was being done to raise awareness of lead theft in rural areas.

There were 75 recorded cases, one of the highest in the country, but there were also 185 ‘general’ thefts in the past three years, including four bicycles, two motor vehicle and two from a person.

Churches in the county have also been subject to 66 counts of criminal damage since 2017, including five cases of arson.

There were also 51 cases of violence against a person; including six cases of sexual assault on a female over the age of 13, one case of sexual assault on a male over 13 and two cases of sexual assault on a male under 13, as well as five cases of stalking and harassment.

In neighbouring Leicestershire, 567 total crimes were reported in the same time period, with a total of 103 lead thefts; the highest in the country, while Derbyshire had 330 crimes, including 71 cases of criminal damage.

Across the UK, 19, 493 crimes have been committed at churches and religious buildings, after 40 of 45 UK police forces responded to the FOI request from the Countryside Alliance.

This includes 2,490 cases of violence, 4,162 of criminal damage and 7,206 of thefts of which, 940 relate to lead theft. It works out at a rate of 19 crimes a day, nationwide.

Speaking to Premier Christian radio about the national figures, which translate to a crime every 70 minutes, the Church of England's director of churches and cathedrals Becky Clark said they want to make sure churches feel they can stay open.

"While these things are undoubtedly very damaging, very harmful when they happen to individual communities, we're still looking at the majority of churches being safe places that are open to their communities," she said.

"We're trying to work with the police on different initiatives to deal with some of the most widely presenting issues.

"However, fundamentally, churches are places where people should be able to come in all states, they should be able to come and feel safe.

"We want to make sure that those churches feel that they can stay open."