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Church roof gang jailed for total of more than 22 years

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Four men have been jailed for a combined total of 22 years and seven months for the theft of lead from churches across the country.

The four defendants stripped tonnes of lead from a mixture of Grade 1 and Grade 2 churches between May 2018 and March 2020 – costing 36 churches a combined total of almost £2.1million. The amount the defendants would have made from scrapping the lead would have been much lower than the cost to the churches.

All four men previously pleaded guilty to a total of 36 offences and have today (Wednesday) been sentenced at Lincoln Crown Court.

One of the churche roofs after a lead theft. (43861190)
One of the churche roofs after a lead theft. (43861190)

Constantin Motescu (32), of Stebbings, Sutton Hill, Telford, admitted 23 charges of theft.

Paul Buica (25), of George Street, Birmingham, admitted 16 thefts.

Mihai Birtu (24), of Port Street, Evesham, admitted 14 thefts.

Laurentiu Sucea (38), of George Street, Birmingham, admitted 13 thefts. The offences occurred between May 2018 and March 2020.

Motescu and Sucea were each jailed for six-and-a-half years, Buica was jailed for six years and Birtu was jailed for three years and seven months.

Detective Chief Inspector Jon Shield, leading the investigation, said: “Working in partnership with other forces and agencies, including the Diocese of Lincoln and Historic England, our dedicated Op History team have worked tirelessly to ensure justice is served.

“Some of the church congregations are still struggling to find the funds to repair the damage and restore their significant historical buildings which means so much to them as well as the local communities they serve.

“The vast majority of these churches will have had insurance in place, but the insurance only covers a small part of the costs so congregations have been left to foot the remainder of the bill.

"The impact of these offences goes well beyond the significant financial cost. Communities have felt a great sense of loss at the damage caused to their heritage, and increased vulnerability due to the rural nature of many of the premises.

“It is still unclear what these defendants spent the money they gained from these thefts on and investigations into this is still ongoing.

“Some of the buildings are thousands of years old so these men have potentially destroyed hundreds of years of our heritage."

Historic England chief executive Duncan Wilson said: “The outcome of this case highlights the benefits of collaborative working between the Police, Crown Prosecution Service, church communities and Historic England and is an approach we shall continue to use when dealing with metal theft.

“The theft of metal from historic church buildings is a serious and organised crime. Removing large areas of lead or copper from roofs has not just a serious financial effect on church communities but a huge effect on their morale.”

Mark Harrison, head of heritage crime strategy for Historic England added: “The metal stolen will have historic and cultural value and its removal leads to irreparable damage to protected heritage buildings, which is why tackling this problem is so important.”

Churches were targeted across the country, including Lincolnshire, Normanton in Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire.

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