Church lead thefts in the Thames Valley an "epidemic"

Communities are being urged to be vigilant following more thefts of lead from church roofs across the Thames Valley.

A group of five churches in villages north of Oxford have been targeted in the last few weeks.

The Diocese of Oxford is now calling for help to protect its sacred buildings.

Revd Rickey Simpson-Gray only took up the post of vicar of St Mary's Church in East Claydon eight weeks ago.

However instead of getting on with the job of serving his new community, he's been forced to focus on fixing the roof after thieves stripped it of lead.

It was stolen overnight last Wednesday, with Bell ringers noticing daylight coming through the roof the following day.

He says: "I think the fabric of our community is hurt because the funny thing is the next day was a wedding. The church function has the heartbeat of the community and we are there to serve the needs of our community. What makes this even more frustrating for the church is that it was in the process of putting in roof alarms when the thieves struck. Had they been in place, they would have been fully insured."

St Mary's is one of five local churches to have been targeted in the last month, leading to a plea for help from the Archdeacon of Buckingham.

The roof of St Mary's was stripped of its lead

According to the National Crime Agency, metal theft is one of the fastest growing crimes globally.

Offences here in the UK increased by 25 per cent last year.

A recent rise in metal prices means it is likely the lead taken from St Mary's will be sold on for scrap, while the church is left with a bill of £70,000.

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