12th century church targeted by thieves who get away with £50,000 of lead from the roof

The Grade II-listed Church of St Hilda, in North Yorkshire, faces a repair bill to the tune of £50,000 after thieves stole lead from three parts of its roof last month, in a criminal trend that seems to have become more frequent across the country.

Last month a gang broke into the Grade II-listed Church of St Hilda, in Sherburn, North Yorkshire, and removed lead from the roof.

This left the building — parts of  which date to the 12th century — vulnerable to the elements, and when warden Keith Usher entered the vestry, he found ‘water coming down the wall and all over the floor,’ according to the Yorkshire Post.

Other parts of the church, which dates from Norman times, were also flooded. ‘Initially I thought the guttering must have fallen of or was blocked, but I went outside into the church yard to find that there was lots of holes in the glass and also, when I saw the gutter was still up, I thought someone must have been and stolen the lead, which is what happened,’ Mr Usher told the Yorkshire Post.

Local residents covered the exposed building with sheeting and boards and a dehumidifier helped get rid of excess moisture from the interiors. However, the church is left facing a massive repair bill.

The lead has been stolen from three different parts of the roof and this is making the work particularly tricky and expensive. Costs have now been estimated to total £50,000 and, although the church has received some donations to help cover this, it will have to dig into its savings.

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‘This appalling theft has caused damage to a precious and historic building that has stood at the heart of the local community for hundreds of years,’ commented a North Yorkshire Police spokesperson. ‘The actions of whoever did this are as selfish as they are disgraceful.’

The theft at St Hilda is part of a worrying trend that has seen criminals strike at several churches around the country. In North Yorkshire alone, the police has recorded 205 crimes and, earlier this year, the Diocese of Oxford issued a plea for parishioners to be vigilant after four churches north of the city had their lead stolen within a few weeks.

‘It can be easy to assume that vehicles parked near a church are carrying out authorised work but this is often not the case,’ Liz Kitch, Senior Church Buildings Officer, said at the time. ‘Please watch for vans and estate cars, often at unusual times of day or night, and alert the police.’

Lead theft, in particular, is becoming especially frequent, with specialist firm VPS Security Services revealing that the country saw an average of 37 a month in the year to April 2019. In June, a group targeted St Mary’s Church, in Furneux Pelham, Hertfordshire, taking nearly all the lead and saddling the congregation with ‘an astronomical financial cost,’ according to the East Herts Rural Policing Team.

The National Churches Trust has urged churches to introduce a range of security measures, including installing alarms and using SmartWater markings.

Meanwhile, North Yorkshire Police are asking anyone with any information about the theft at St Hilda to get in touch on 101, quoting reference 12190185555.