Police believe the same gang is behind a series of six lead or coppers thefts from church roofs in the Melton area since the start of this year which have caused tens of thousands of pounds damage.
The latest victim, St Mary The Virgin Church in Nether Broughton, had about five-and-a-half tonnes of lead stripped from its chancel roof and central nave during the early hours on Monday.
Other incidents have occurred in Edmondthorpe, Kirby Bellars, Little Dalby, Wyfordby and Shangton in the Harborough district. All six thefts are being linked by police.
St Mary The Virgin churchwarden Stuart Evans said about £30,000 of damage had been caused and, with insurance companies now only paying up to £7,000 towards the cost of repairs, it leaves the church community facing a huge fundraising task.
Thankfully Melton firm Stace Roofing Ltd went out of their way and quickly came to the church’s aid by putting a cover over the exposed areas on Monday.
But following heavy overnight rainfall buckets had to be put inside the church as water came pouring through yesterday.
Mr Evans said: “The whole community is shocked and very upset. They took a huge amount of lead, it must have been a team who did it.
“The stolen lead was all marked up with SmartWater but that means nothing to them. We’ve had alarms but they’re only as effective as people responding to them. I think we’ve done all we can reasonably do.”
It’s less than a year since the church was last targeted by lead thieves. In April thieves stole £15,000 of lead from roof which was replaced with zinc - a less attractive metal to thieves.
Mr Evans added: “The thieves didn’t touch the bit of the roof we replaced with zinc last time so that obviously worked. We’re going to have to replace the chancel and central nave with zinc but that will need English Heritage to agree. It’s also a listed building so there are restrictions on what we can do without English Heritage’s support.”
Only last week the Melton Times reported that lead had been stripped from the roof of St Mary in Wyfordby and, before that, lead was ripped from the south aisle and porch of St James The Greater in Little Dalby and copper taken from the south aisle roof and nave of St Peter’s in Kirby Bellars.
Local beat officer for Melton rural south Pc John Scott said: “Since the beginning of this year there have been six incidents where lead or copper has been stolen from church roofs.
“Incidents have occurred in Edmondthorpe, Shangton, Kirby Bellars, Little Dalby, Wyfordby and Nether Broughton and all of them are being linked.
“There is an ongoing policing operation specifically looking at this series of incidents. Patrols have been increased, risk assessments are being carried out on all churches in the area, identifying those which are most vulnerable.
“Dedicated officers are patrolling the areas around those churches that are identified as being vulnerable at night and we’re working closely with representatives from local churches and addressing any concerns raised.
“We’d also ask people living close to churches to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the police immediately on 101.
“During the most recent incident in Nether Broughton, about five-and-a-half tonnes of lead was stolen from the roof and loaded on to a large vehicle parked on Hickling Road in the early hours of Monday (March 7). If you saw anything suspicious please contact us.”