Church staff feel helpless to stop ‘deplorable’ metal thefts in Barking and Dagenham

Workers at churches targeted by metal thieves have expressed sadness after a new report revealed a third of places of worships were plundered last year.

A survey published by English Heritage on Monday showed more than 200 listed buildings were targeted each day, often for trophies, using Google Earth and other material published online.

Andrew Bond, chief bell ringer of St Margaret’s Church in Barking, and the Rev Roger Gayler, of St Mark’s Church, Chadwell Heath, spoke out after their premises were left paying thousands in repair costs.

Mr Bond, 43, said: “It’s deplorable. It is a symptom of the high metal prices worldwide and the fact that historic buildings are left empty for long periods of time. There is nothing to challenge the thieves – it’s very sad.

“St Margaret’s is very fortunate, it hasn’t suffered as much as other churches.”

St Margaret’s in The Broadway, whose churchyard is Grade II-listed, had at least �2,000 of lead stolen five years ago, Mr Bond said.

St Mark’s in Rose Lane had lead and copper worth �15,000 stolen from its roof in the past five years.

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The study shows 70,000 listed buildings were targeted and churches “faced the greatest threat” with 37.5 per cent damaged last year.

Mr Gayler, 67, said: “It’s so sad vulnerable and exposed buildings which are there for the community are targeted.

“The big problem, government is trying to redress, is the value of the copper doesn’t in any way reflect the value of the repair. Sentencing reflects the value of the metal stolen, not the cost of repairs.”

English Heritage chief executive Dr Simon Thurley said: “The figures are alarming, particularly for our churches.”