A VICAR’S morning prayer was interrupted by a man scaling Sunderland Minster in a desperate attempt to steal the lightning conductor.
The Rev Martin Anderson was inside the High Street West church when he heard something suspicious.
He rushed to the back of the building, where he saw the man climbing up the drainpipe trying to steal the copper conductor, which reaches to the top of the Minster.
The Rev Anderson’s sudden appearance startled the would-be burglar.
“When I saw him, he was about eight or 10 feet up, pulling away at the lightning conductor.
“He jumped down straight away and brushed past me.
“He grabbed his mountain bike and then sped off.”
The man, who was in his mid-30s and had brown hair, left behind a rucksack and a can of 7Up, which police are examining for forensic evidence.
The attempted theft came as the deputy chief constable of the British Transport Police, Paul Crowther, told Parliament that the North East is the UK metal theft capital.
Chief Con Crowther said: “The North East seems to be the epicentre of metal thefts as far as the railways are concerned.
“That is may be down to the tradition of heavy industry in the area where people are used to dealing in metal, and understand the value of this.”
Earlier this month, Network Rail staff had to work through the night to replace overhead equipment stolen from South Hylton Metro station.
Between January 1 and August 31 this year, Northumbria Police recorded 3,376 incidents, of which 411 have been detected.
Rev Anderson said more should be done to stop stolen metal being sold on.
“I think there needs to be a more intense review of scrap metal dealers, in terms of who is receiving this stolen metal.
“There is an issue here that needs addressing.”
Neighbourhood Inspector Neal Craig, of Northumbria Police, said if the raid had been successful, it could have been at a significant cost to the church.
He said: “We continue to urge people to report incidents like this to us.
“If they see someone trying to remove any type of metal contact police immediately.
“It may be that they’re removing it for genuine reasons but if people contact police, we can carry out inquiries and establish whether or not it is.
“I’d also urge anyone who saw anything yesterday morning or a man on a bike near to the church to contact police.”
The incident happened between 6.20am and 6.30am on Tuesday.
In another incident, a substantial amount of copper piping was stolen at the Matalan store, in Pallion Retail Park, at 10.15am yesterday.
Anyone with information on either incident should contact Northumbria Police on 03456 043 043, extension 69191, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.