Sunderland and Durham churches pray for an end to metal thefts

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EMERGENCY talks have been called in an bid to tackle the growing problem of metal thefts from church buildings.

Police will be joining forces with church leaders, council planning chiefs and members of the community to come up with ways to combat the issue.

Reverend Paul Judson, of Durham diocese, which covers Durham and Sunderland, said: “The purpose of the meeting is not only to get a better idea of the scale of the problem, but more importantly to discuss practical solutions.

“As the price of scrap metal continues to soar, we will also be looking to find ways of combating the increasing threat of further thefts.

“Theft of metal is a huge problem and is wider than the church, but Church of England congregations are custodians of many of the most significant buildings in the communities they serve.”

He added: “Many have been victims of theft with some having been hit several times.

“As a consequence, insurance cover has often had to be limited.

“The damage can be extensive, not just to the building but to interior fixtures and fittings, as church congregations often don’t discover the theft until rainwater pours into the building.

“Any repair is time consuming, morale sapping and costly. Unclear advice and delaying procedures cause significant frustration, and repeated attacks threaten the long-term future of some churches and church communities.”

In 2008, claims of metal thefts at churches across Durham Diocese hit 60, costing more than £170,000.

Since then, there have been a further 90 claims. The cost of all claims since 2007 stands at £465,000.

Last August, thieves struck at St Nicholas’s Church, West Boldon, for the second time in a year, when more than £16,000-worth of lead was stripped from the roof of the south aisle.

In April 2008, Lee Everist, 24, of Fern Crescent, Seaham, was jailed for five months after admitting stealing £20,000 of lead from St John’s Church in the town.

The theft took place just two weeks after £100,000-worth of work had been carried out on the roof.

In March last year, hapless thieves scaled Houghton Methodist Church, ripping off all the metal – which turned out to be worthless – leaving a gaping hole which cost more than £2,000 to fix.

The meeting takes place tomorrow at Burnmoor Church Hall, Rose Crescent, from 9.30am to 1pm.