Police hunt ‘despicable’ thieves who stripped lead and copper from village church roofs

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Thieves have struck again at two village churches in the Melton area, stripping lead and copper from their roofs and causing thousands of pounds of damage.

It’s the third time in recent years that St James the Greater in Little Dalby has been targeted by metal thieves.

And at St Peter’s Church in Kirby Bellars copper thieves struck just as repairs were about to be made to the its roof following a previous theft in August last year.

Police are linking the thefts which happened within the space of eight days.

Lead from the roof of the south aisle and porch at St James’ in Church Lane was stolen between 3pm last Thursday (February 11) and 9am on Friday (February 12).

Copper was stripped from the south aisle roof and nave of St Peter’s between 6.30pm on February 2 and 12.30pm on February 4.

Rev Peter Hooper is area dean of the Framland Deanery which both churches are part of. He said: “I’m furious and deeply saddened that these listed buildings have been desecrated in this way.

“It’s debilitating for everyone involved in the churches as it takes a huge amount of time, energy and money to put things right. There are some very significant implications and it’s the ongoing effect it’s going to have.

“It’s early days at the moment but the insurance won’t cover the whole cost. There will be thousands of pounds that we’ll need to find. Exactly how much will depend upon what we’re allowed to replace the stolen metal with.”

Church council member Martin Paling said thieves stole about a third of the copper from the south aisle roof of Grade I listed St Peter’s last August and this was about to be repaired before thieves struck again this month.

He said: “It’s despicable. The scrap value of the copper is minimal compared to what it’s going to cost to put right. It’s money churches simply can’t afford.

“A small part of the cost is likely to be covered by insurance but there’s no guarantee and it means we’ll have to apply for grant funding which takes time and also has no guarantees.”

Alternative options, such as other metals with a much lower re-sale value and far less attractive to thieves, are being considered for the replacement of both church roofs.

A Leicestershire Police spokesman said: “We’re looking at the similarities between the crimes and whether there’s a clear link. Anyone with any information should call us on 101.”