Criminals targeting Churches and religious buildings in the UK are responsible for over 20,000 crimes in under 3 years – a rate of 19 a day nationwide. A report carried out by the Countryside Alliance, released to members on Monday (4th November 2019), into lead theft and criminal activity on local Churches found 2, 605 cases of violence, 4,578 of criminal damage and 8,074 thefts including 1053 cases of lead theft.
In response to several complaints that were made to the Countryside Alliance from members who were concerned that nothing was being done to raise awareness of the issue of lead theft in rural areas, a FOI request was sent to 45 UK police forces. 40 police forces returned figures.
In London, criminals have been responsible for 3,161 crimes on religious grounds, including churches, since 2017.
Of the crimes carried out, 48 have been in relation to lead theft while 1,349 thefts have been carried out in or on the grounds of places of worship across the capital. This includes 71 bicycle thefts.
543 cases of criminal damage have also been carried out along with 973 violent assaults; which includes 1 case of homicide, 139 sexual assaults (31 rapes) and 275 cases where the victim has suffered an injury.
Among the other responses collected, Northamptonshire and South Yorkshire provided the most detailed figures on church crimes, which included cases of drug trafficking, harassment and drug possession, as well as one example of ‘exposure and voyeurism’.
5 cases of harassment and stalking were recorded in Northamptonshire between 2018 and July 2019 along with 3 cases of possession of weapons offences and 5 of arson.
A case of illegal sexual activity with a child under 13 was recorded in South Yorkshire in 2018, as was a case of bigamy in the same year. 2 cases of stalking were recorded between 2018-2019.
Leicestershire had the highest number of lead thefts, with 103 cases being reported in under 3 years. This was followed by 75 in Northamptonshire and 62 cases in West Mercia and Nottinghamshire respectively.
548 cases of criminal damage on churches were recorded in Northern Ireland in the same period, while Kent saw 224 cases of criminal damage, two examples of some of the worst cases in the country.
London recorded 973 cases of violence carried out on church or places of worship, while West Yorkshire recorded 170 cases and Sussex 160 from July 2017 to present.
Mo Metcalf- Fisher of the Countryside Alliance said “These figures paint a bleak picture of criminal attacks on churches and religious grounds across the country. As a society, irrespective of faith or none, we need to be much more vigilant when it comes to watching over churches and places of worship by reporting suspicious activity. It also serves as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote.”
Speaking to Premier Christian radio about the national figures, which translate to a crime every 70 minutes, The Church of England’s director of churches and cathedrals, Becky Clark said: “While these things are undoubtedly very damaging, very harmful when they happen to individual communities, we’re still looking at the majority of churches being safe places that are open to their communities.”
“We’re trying to work with the police on different initiatives to deal with some of the most widely presenting issues. However, fundamentally, churches are places where people should be able to come in all states, they should be able to come and feel safe. We want to make sure that those churches feel that they can stay open.”
“This research includes churchyards, which are enormously important green spaces. In some communities, particularly in urban areas, they might be the only green and open space available to people. So it’s going to be a natural place for people to come to for all sorts of things, mostly good, but occasionally bad.”
The specific questions asked to each force were:
1) How many incidents have been reported to your force of thefts being carried out in Churches or on church property from January 2017-to as close to present as possible?
2) If possible, please could you clarify how many of the thefts recorded relate to lead being taken from the church roof?
3) How many incidents have been reported to your force of vandalism being carried out on Churches/ church property from January 2017-to as close to present as possible?
4) How many incidents have been reported to your force of physical/ violent assaults being carried out in Churches or on church property from 2017-to as close to present as possible?
- London could only provide information on ‘Religious grounds’, so the figures represent more than just churches.
- The Countryside Alliance is a rural campaigning group with over 100,000 members in the UK.
- It is unknown specifically which churches or religious buildings have been targeted, within this data set.
The full figures, by force can be found in the report which has just gone live on the CA website.