Five members of a criminal gang have been sentenced for their part in the theft of lead from 20 churches across the region including buildings in Fulbeck and Newton, causing a total of £1m in damage.
It is estimated the gang stole 70 tonnes of lead which they sold for £70,000, but the damage they caused to the churches was nearer £1m. The churches they targeted included St Nicholas in Fulbeck and St Botolph’s in Newton. The men took part in a complex operation, ripping lead from church roofs during night time raids and selling the lead to scrap yards.
The group was caught when Lincolnshire police stropped two suspicious vehicles on the A46 on August 25. Five of the six defendents were present, along with a quantity of stolen lead. All were arrested on suspicion of theft. The following month, while on bail, two of the offenders were arrested again while trying to weigh in more stolen lead at a local scrapyard.
‘Smart water’ on the lead in the car identified it from a county church. The rest of the gang were identified through mobile phone records, scrap metal records, scientific evidence including ‘smart water’ from the metal and DNA from cigarette butts left on one of the church roofs.
The members of the gang included Vidas Andruska who was sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to steal. Andrius Cereska, Tadas Andruska and Audrius Kvedaras were each sentenced to four years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal. Nerijus Razma was found not guilty to conspiracy to steal but pleaded guilty to theft and was sentenced to 22 months in prison. Vitalijus Vilkys was handed a six months sentence, suspended for two years, with 180 hours of unpaid work, after pleading guilty to handling stolen goods.
DI Keith Blakey, of Lincolnshire Police, said: “This is a fantastic result for the people of Lincolnshire and it demonstrates the effectiveness of Lincolnshire Police’s Operation Brompton, which was launched to tackle metal theft in the county.
“These thieves targeted some of the most important heritage sites in the heart of our rural communities, causing huge amounts of damage to religious buildings and leading to a great deal of upset among congregations.
“We hope today’s outcome sends a clear message to criminals across the East Midlands and the rest of the country. If you attempt to operate in Lincolnshire, you will be arrested and put before the courts.”
Simon Rowe said: “This is one of the biggest conspiracies to steal lead from church roofs we have prosecuted in the East Midlands.
“Some may think that just because churches are buildings, stealing from them somehow does not leave a victim behind. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are places of cultural, historic, religious and, to many people, personal importance, cared for over centuries by dedicated members of their community.
“Despite this, this group targeted these churches, using blunt force to rip the lead from the roofs and throwing it to the ground, damaging the fabric of ancient buildings, monuments and gravestones and exposing the interiors to the elements.
“The CPS takes these crimes particularly seriously because in many cases the lead is irreplaceable. Modern roofing materials are not as effective and are out of keeping, and insurance rarely covers the full cost, which is not always possible to meet. Thefts of this nature leave small communities devastated that their historic church has been desecrated.
“These six individuals have shown a callous disregard for the communities they have robbed and the damage they have done.”