Stealing Lead from a Church Roof Should Be a ‘Hate Crime’, Says Security Specialist

All Saints Church
Pam Fray/Creative Commons

A security specialist has said that stealing lead from church roofs should be treated as an anti-Christian hate crime because thieves know it will disrupt religious services.

Nick Tolson, head of National Churchwatch which advises England’s parishes, told The Times that his local church in Hampshire had been attacked by an arsonist in 2015 who spraypainted a cross on the wall before completely gutting the building in fire and weeks after leaving a burning bible on the altar — but the incident was not treated as a hate crime.

“If a crime happens in a mosque or a synagogue, it is assumed to be a hate crime unless proved otherwise, but if it happens in a church it is assumed to be a normal crime,” Mr Toldson said.

“Lead theft is a big one. People may think someone is only attacking the church because it has lead, but they know it is a church, that the church will have to pay for it and that the church is prevented from worshipping and can end up being locked up.”

“Someone who steals lead regularly from a church has contempt or should know it is affecting worship,” he added.

Over the past four years, there have been 9,000 claims with the Ecclesiastical Insurance company for lead theft, with reports that organised crime has resulted in an increase in recent years.

In one of the worst thefts of its kind, thieves stole the entire lead roof of All Saint’s Church (pictured, above) in Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire, — 20 tonnes of metal — in October, leaving the Grade II listed building exposed to the elements. It is estimated it could cost the parish £400,000 to replace it, with insurance only paying out £15,000.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) defines a hate crime as that which is motivated by prejudice or “hostility,” with guidelines stating that reporting is “subjective” and based on victim perception.

The Church of England is unlikely to back reporting vandalism of its community churches as a hate crime, with an Anglican spokesman saying: “In our experience theft and vandalism against churches in the UK, though often serious, is not usually anti-Christian in motivation.”

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton of the National Police Chiefs’ Council told the newspaper: “A theft from any place of worship should only be treated as a hate crime if the perception test is met. There is no blanket approach to treating [such] thefts as a hate crime.”

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