Very sad news to report the theft of lead from the roof of All Saints Church, Slingsby (Pictured)
The village church was attacked on the night of Wednesday 21st September, the thieves removing 8 large sheets of lead from the roof of the church. The value of the theft is put in excess of £20,000 - and the wider impact on this village community is devastating. All Saints had recently completed a program of renovation and conservation.
Village churches are at risk because of the nature of the buildings. They are often in isolated locations, with often poor surveillance and the target metal, lead is easy to access, easy to remove and holds its value no matter if it's form is changed.
There have been a number of lead thefts in North Yorkshire in recent months, notably from St Mary's Lodge, a Grade I listed building in Marygate, York, and from the Bar Convent, Blossom Street (pictured below) the custodians of which have resorted to spending a considerable sum of money on installing a CCTV system on this another Grade I listed building.
Lead theft on this scale requires a certain amount of planning by the thieves. This planning often involves conducting pre offence visits to a church to understand access points, where vehicles can be parked, where the nearest neighbours are, where best to climb onto a roof, and what existing security measures are in place. This 'hostile reconnaissance' visit or indeed visits can take place days or even weeks before an offence takes place.
One major advantage that communities have over the thieves is that they know if a person is a stranger to a village. Every 'hostile reconnaissance' conducted by a thief therefore provides an opportunity for a community to disrupt this criminal activity.
What is often missing is awareness on behalf of a community. Awareness that their church is at risk, awareness of the nature of offending, awareness of connecting 'hostile reconnaissance' and other preparatory acts prior to an offence taking place. Also an awareness of how to share what they may consider as 'odd' but not bother reporting.
Criminals planning such an attack may use a variety of vehicles. They certainly need some kind of commercial vehicle to remove the lead. Planning visits however, may not necessarily involve the use of vans or pick ups. Again, village members may spot vehicles that look alien to their community, and may not connect these with criminal behaviour, even if they know their church is at risk.
There is a definite need therefore for communities to report their suspicions, and to know how to do so. 101, or contact with local policing teams are established but unfortunately under used. There also may be a feeling within the community that they don't want to bother the police with something minor or trivial. However, what may appear trivial, may be an important piece of an existing jig-saw that might well prevent or detect an offence.
The police advice is clear, please report your suspicions. They would rather 99 false calls with good intent than miss that 1 important 'nugget' of information. Other emerging channels such as local Heritage Watch schems and existing neighbourhood watch schemes can be also be utilised.
Having successfully carried out one offence, sadly statistically the risk of re-offending in the short term (within 3 months) is high, unless some of the situational factors that allowed the initial offence change, and one of the easiest factors to change is Community Awareness. Such offences can be and need to be prevented. All our heritage is at risk here.
Operation Crucible, reported elsewhere on this site is a national initiative aimed at improving the intelligence flow and joint agency response to heritage crime including metal theft.
Watch a brief Video which explains how the Trace-in-Metal system works here