by Countryside Alliance

The latest report from the Countryside Alliance into the number of crimes against churches and other religious buildings makes for bleak reading.

Several members from around the country had contacted the Countryside Alliance to express concern over lead thefts at local churches in rural areas.

Following these reports, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was sent to all police forces in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, except for the British Nuclear Police, Dover Port Authority and British Transport Police.

We used the opportunity to request, not just reports of lead thefts since 2017, but other crimes including violence, theft and criminal damage.
 
Of the 45 police forces contacted, 40 replied, with each force providing different levels of intel. Some police forces provided additional figures for crimes, for example: vehicle offences. These totals are included within the total figures by force in the main table found above. Note:this could be subject to change, so please feel free to check back. 
 
Police Scotland did not comply with the request, so Scotland is sadly not included within the table below.
 
At the time of writing, the City of London Police have not complied with the FOI request. We can assume that the total figure of 20,168 will increase once the City of London return their figures. 
 
The questions asked:
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? If possible, please could you clarify how many of the thefts recorded relate to lead being taken from the church roof?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
The response:
 
Due to the restrictions that come with FOIs (namely the costs involved in retrieving specific information), some forces were unable to provide full responses, while others (the Metropolitan Police for example) detailed all places of worship.
 
We have included these figures in with the report, hence the reference to churches and religious buildings.
 
There are also limitations that meant it was virtually impossible to find out exactly where the churches are located, within the individual counties. 
 
Section 12 of the FOIA allows that public authorities do not have to comply with section 1(1) of the Act if the cost of complying would exceed the appropriate limit.
 
In some rare cases, churches have been cited as a location nearest to where a crime takes place. This is down to the officer when writing up a report. In other cases, where 'church' has been searched, it may not bring up every record of a crime at a church, if the term church has not been recorded. It may well be that the address of the church has been recorded, rather than  the building type. 

 Responses of note to consider
 
Of the full or part responses received, several forces outlined some important notes which must be considered when reviewing the overall figures.
Of note:
 
1. Greater Manchester:
In an email response, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) stated that it does not hold the information requested in an easily retrievable format. To provide the data requested would involve a manual search of all crimes recorded between 1st January 2017 and 8th July 2019 where the type of premises 1 or type of premises 2 is CEMETERY, CHURCH HALL, CHURCHYARD, CONVENT, GRAVEYARD, PRESBYTERY, RELIGION or VICARAGE, excluding cancelled crimes. This search brought back 1,523 crimes. Although it doesn't specify what these crimes are, it does confirm that 1,523 crimes have recorded in type of premises outlined during the dates. When asked to respond if this was not the case, the Force did not respond.

2. West Midlands:
In their initial email response to the FOI request, West Midlands Police stated: "There is no location type of ‘church’ on our crime recording system, therefore in order to determine the requested information, we would need to manually review all Theft, Criminal Damage and Violence Against the Person offences recorded since January 2017. This however would involve thousands of cases and researching each individual case would exceed the appropriate limit (FOIA, s.12).” and as such would not pursue the request. We appealed the decision. They agreed to respond, but stated: *Please note, we do not have a Location type of ‘Church’ on our crime recording system, therefore data for this request has been extracted from cases where the Primary Location field = ‘Place of Worship’ AND the Full Location Details field (i.e. address) contains the word Church (excluding Church Street or similar).

3. Thames Valley:
Initially, Thames Valley Police cited section 12 of the FOI Act, however after appeal, we decided to focus on Oxfordshire only. Therefore, Thames Valley counts for Oxfordshire only.

4. Metropolitan Police:
Initially, the FOI was refused as churches were not recorded specifically. So, a revised FOI with all questions was re-submitted with the opening line: “ “1.How many offences have been reported to your force with Home Office (H.O) classification of Theft/theft of lead/ arson and criminal damage and violence against the person/, where the location type on CRIS was MA (Place of Worship); MB (Burial ground –cemetery, churchyard, graveyard, crematorium etc) or MO (Religious building – Other). In simple terms, the figures included places of worship so should not be attributed only to churches or church property.
 
Note: Cases in this instance, refers to incidents. The time ranges from January 2017 (in all examples) to July 2019 or August 2019. ‘Crimes recorded’ related to those crimes referenced in the questions asked in the FOI request. Violence refers to violence against a person that results in injury or non-injury. All efforts have been made to ensure the data outlined below is accurate.  ‘General thefts’ includes all other thefts not relating to lead theft.
 
 
Avon and Somerset
Avon and Somerset responded to the FOI in part. They informed us that 93 ‘tagged’ thefts had been carried out; which was made up of 70 metal thefts relating to infrastructure and 23 metal thefts no related to infrastructure.

Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire Police responded to the FOI in full, providing more detail on offences than most. In total, 160 crimes have been recorded at locations tagged as church/ cathedral/ chapel. Of this total, 4 cases related to lead theft; 48 related to general theft including 4 bicycle thefts; 37 cases relating to criminal damage, including 4 cases of Arson; 13 recorded cases of violence, including 2 sexual offences and one rape as being recorded in a ‘churchyard, cemetery or crematorium’.

Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire Police responded to the FOI in full, providing more detail on offences than most. In total, 224 crimes have been recorded at churches in Cambridgeshire. Of this total, 22 cases related to lead thefts; 96 related to general theft; 44 cases relating to criminal damage including Arson and 22 cases of violence, including 5 sexual assaults between 2017-2018.

Cheshire
Cheshire Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 250 crimes have been recorded at churches in Cheshire. Of this total, 6 cases related to lead theft; 76 cases related to general thefts; 114 related to criminal damage and 54 cases related to violence.

City of London
The City of London Police did not respond at the time of writing this report.

Cleveland
Cleveland Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 294 crimes have been recorded at churches in the Cleveland area. Cleveland Police cover the districts of Hartlepool, Redcar & Cleveland, Stockton and Middlesbrough. Of the 294 recorded crimes, 56 relate to lead theft; 73 to general theft; 79 to criminal damage, including 2 cases of arson (1 case in 2017 and another in 2018); 29 cases related to violence.

Cumbria
Cumbria Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 243 crimes have been recorded at churches in Cumbria. Of this total, 16 relate to lead theft; 100 cases related to general thefts; 89 cases relating to criminal damage and 38 cases related to violence.

Derbyshire
Derbyshire Police responded to the FOI in full. In total 330 crimes have been recorded at churches/ religious buildings. This total includes 27 cases of lead thefts; 163 cases of general thefts; 71 cases relating to criminal damage/ vandalism and 42 cases relating to assaults.
 
Devon and Cornwall
Devon and Cornwall Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 669 crimes have been recorded at churches/ abbey/ cathedral/ chapel/ temple/ vicarage. This total includes 6 cases of lead theft (4 in 2017 and 2 in 2019); 341 cases of general thefts; 193 cases of criminal damage and 129 cases of violence, including 47 cases of violence where a person has been injured, 18 sexual offences and 10 rapes.

Dorset
Dorset Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 229 crimes have been recorded at churches in Dorset. This total includes 10 cases of lead theft; 97 general thefts; 91 cases of criminal damage and 31 cases of violence.

Durham
Durham Police requested a break down of church addresses in order to fulfil the request. The CA obtained, via the internet, a list of churches within the Durham area. It’s worth noting that there may well be churches that were missed off, despite our best efforts. In total, 21 crimes have been recorded at the churches in Durham. This includes 1 case of lead theft; 8 cases of general theft; 11 cases of criminal damage and 1 case of violence.
 
Dfyed Powys
Dfyed Powys responded in full to the FOI. Dfyed Powys covers Carmarthenshire, Caredigion and Pembrokeshire as well the unitary authority of Powys in Wales. In total, 181 crimes have been recorded at churches in the Dfyed Powys area. This includes 18 cases of lead theft; 85 cases of general theft; 50 cases of vandalism and 10 cases of violence.

Essex
Essex Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 442 crimes have been recorded at churches in Essex. This total includes 6 cases of lead theft; 259 cases of general thefts; 135 cases of criminal damage and 40 cases of violence against a person.

Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire responded in part to the FOI request. In total, 89 crimes have been recorded as being carried out on churches in Gloucestershire. This, however, only includes: 8 cases of lead theft and 81 of general thefts.

Greater Manchester
Greater Manchester police responded only to the total request for all crimes relating to theft, lead theft, violence and criminal damage combined. The total of these crimes combined is 1,523.

Gwent
Gwent police responded in full to the FOI request. Gwent police cover Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire, Newport and Torfaen. In total, 116 crimes have been recorded as being carried out in Churches in Gwent. This total includes 12 cases of lead theft; 86 of general thefts; 11 cases of criminal damage/ vandalism and 7 cases of violence.
 
Hampshire
Hampshire Police responded to the FOI request in part. Initially, the FOI request was rejected citing section 12. After appeal, the CA presented the addresses of 80 churches that we had on file, to at least get an idea. Hampshire police returned information on crimes in relation to these 80 churches. In total, 14 crimes have been recorded at the addresses of churches supplied in Hampshire. The total includes 0 cases of lead theft; 2 cases of general theft; 7 cases of vandalism/ criminal damage and 5 cases of violence.

Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 232 crimes have been recorded at churches in Hertfordshire. The total includes 22 cases of lead thefts; 99 cases of general thefts; 61 cases of criminal damage and 31 cases of violence. 19 cases related to sexual assault.

Humberside
Humberside police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 371 crimes have been recorded at churches in Humberside. The total includes 46 cases of lead theft; 94 cases of general thefts; 136 cases of criminal damage and 49 cases of violence.

Kent
Kent police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 579 crimes have been recorded at churches in Kent. The total includes 53 cases of lead theft; 146 cases of general thefts; 224 cases of criminal damage (including arson) and 131 cases of violence against a person.

Lancashire
Lancashire police responded in part to the FOI request. They did not disclose figures relating to violence. The total number of crimes recorded at churches in Lancashire is therefore is 456. The total includes 76 of lead thefts; 231 cases of general thefts and 149 cases of criminal damage.

Leicestershire
Leicestershire police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 567 crimes have been recorded at churches/ religious buildings in Leicestershire. The total includes 103 cases of lead thefts; 294 cases of general thefts; 126 cases of criminal damage (including Arson) and 44 cases of violence. 

Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 313 crimes have been recorded at churches in Lincolnshire. The total includes 48 cases of lead theft; 151 cases of general thefts; 94 cases of criminal damage and 20 cases of violence.

Merseyside
Merseyside police responded in full to the FOI request. In total 503 crimes have been recorded at churches in Merseyside. The total includes 18 cases of lead theft; 243 cases of general thefts; 184 cases of criminal damage and 58 cases of violence.

Metropolitan Police
The Metropolitan police responded in full to the FOI request, however their search included all religious buildings. This does not include the City of London, which has its own police force. In total, 3161 crimes have been recorded at churches and religious buildings in London. This total includes 48 cases of lead theft; 1349 cases of general theft including 71 bicycle thefts; 543 cases of criminal damage and 973 cases of violence, including 1 case of homicide and 139 sexual assaults (31 rapes).

Norfolk
Norfolk police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 215 crimes have been recorded at churches in Norfolk. This total includes 19 cases of lead theft; 116 cases of general thefts; 64 cases of criminal damage and 16 cases of violence.

North Wales
North Wales responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 224 crimes have been recorded out at churches in North Wales. This total includes 2 cases of lead thefts; 144 cases of general thefts; 71 cases criminal damage, including 5 cases of arson and 3 cases of violence.

North Yorkshire
North Yorkshire police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 205 crimes have been recorded at churches in North Yorkshire. This total includes 17 cases of lead theft; 99 cases of general thefts; 73 cases of criminal damage and 16 cases of violence.

Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire police responded in full to the FOI request, providing more details on the crimes than most forces. In total, 428 crimes have been recorded at churches in Northamptonshire. This includes 75 cases of lead theft; 185 general thefts including 4 bicycle thefts, 2 thefts of a motor vehicle and 2 thefts from a person; 66 cases of criminal damage, including 5 cases of arson and 51 cases of violence, including 6 cases of sexual assault on a female over the age of 13, 1 case of sexual assault on a male over and 2 cases of sexual assault on a male under 13. 5 cases of stalking and harassment have also been recorded.

Northumbria
Northumbria police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 490 crimes have been recorded at churches in Northumbria. This includes, 26 cases of lead theft; 226 cases of general thefts; 158 cases of criminal damage and 54 cases of violence, 14 of which have included harassment.

Nottinghamshire
Nottinghamshire police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 333 crimes have been recorded at churches in Nottinghamshire. This includes 62 cases of lead theft; 227 cases of general theft, including 9 bicycles and 6 motor vehicles; 2 cases of vandalism (note: Notts police searched for the term ‘vandal’ which produced 2 cases. It may well be the case there are more cases than this) and 42 cases of violence.

South Wales
South Wales police responded in part to the FOI request. They did disclose details relating to lead theft. In total, 343 crimes have been recorded at churches in South Wales. This includes, 213 cases of general theft; 91 cases of criminal damage in or on church property and 39 cases of violence against a person, including rape, sexual assault and robbery.
 
South Yorkshire
South Yorkshire police responded in full to the FOI request, providing more details than most forces on the crimes committed. In total, 757 crimes have been recorded at churches/ chapels/ cathedral/ churchyard/ crematoriums in South Yorkshire. This includes 18 cases of metal theft; 82 cases of general theft, including 1 theft by an employee, 1 case of shoplifting, 2 thefts from a motor vehicle and 2 thefts of a motor vehicle. Of the total, 45 cases relate to criminal damage, while there are 37 cases of violence against a person.
 
Staffordshire
Staffordshire police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 232 crimes have been recorded at churches/ chapel/ cathedrals in Staffordshire. This includes 15 cases of lead theft; 100 cases of general thefts; 96 cases of criminal damage and 21 cases of violence.

Suffolk
Suffolk police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 169 crimes have been recorded at churches in Suffolk. This includes 11 cases of lead theft; 80 cases of general thefts; 58 cases of criminal damage and 20 cases of violence, of which 11 resulted in injury.

Surrey
Surrey police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 279 crimes have been recorded at churches in Surrey. This includes, 18 cases of lead theft; 87 cases of general thefts; 74 cases of criminal damage and 22 cases of violent assaults.

Sussex
Sussex police responded in full to the FOI request, providing details of all crime groups recorded at Church/Religious Building, Churchyard, Cemetery or Crematorium. In total, this totalled 1,148 crimes. This includes, but is not limited to, 33 cases of lead theft; 262 cases of general theft; 245 cases of criminal damage and 160 cases of violence. There were 9 cases of arson (not endangering life), 1 case of bigamy and 3 cases involving the possession of weapons. There were also 23 recorded sexual offences, including: 1 case of sexual assault against a male age 13 or older, 4 cases of sexual assault against a male under 13, 2 cases of rape on a female aged 16 or over, 1 case of rape against a female under the age of 13, 6 cases of sexual assault on a female aged 13 or over and 5 cases of sexual assault on a female under 13.

Thames Valley
As stated above, Thames Valley responded in part to the FOI request. Initially, the request was refused under section 12. On appeal, the CA submitted addresses for churches we had on file for Oxfordshire ONLY. Thames Valley police cover Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Bucks. Of the churches in Oxfordshire submitted under the FOI request, a total of 837 crimes were recorded. This includes, 556 cases of general theft; 187 cases of criminal damage and 94 cases of violence.
 
Warwickshire
Warwickshire police responded in part to the FOI request. Initially the request was refused. We requested therefore, figures in relation to lead and general thefts. The total number of crimes therefore disclosed were 133. This included 21 cases of lead theft and 112 cases of general theft.
 
West Mercia
West Mercia police responded in part to the FOI request. Initially the request was refused. Like Warwickshire (above) a new request was sent on appeal to request figures in relation to lead and general thefts. West Mercia police cover the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. The total number of crimes disclosed were 318. This included 62 cases of lead theft and 256 general thefts at churches across West Mercia.

West Midlands
West Midlands police responded in part to the FOI request. Initially, the request was refused on the grounds that they did not record location type ‘church’. On appeal, the search was broadened to religious grounds. The total number of crimes committed at churches and religious grounds in West Midland totalled 245. This included 26 cases of lead theft, 119 cases of general thefts and 16 cases of criminal damage.
 
West Yorkshire
West Yorkshire responded in full to the FOI request. Like Sussex, West Yorkshire disclosed a large set of data with more details on other crimes committed. In total, 1,199 crimes were recorded at churches/ religious buildings.  This included 20 cases of lead theft; 242 cases of general theft; 275 cases of criminal damage and 170 cases of violence. There were also 8 cases of rape, 23 cases of sexual offences and 3 cases of trafficking-controlled drugs.

Wiltshire Police
Wiltshire police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 107 crimes were recorded at churches in Wiltshire. This included 16 cases of lead theft; 28 cases of general theft; 60 cases of criminal damage and 3 cases of violence.

Police Scotland
Police Scotland did not respond to the request, citing section 12.

Northern Ireland
The Police Service of Northern Ireland responded in full to the request. In total, 1,446 crimes were recorded at churches in Northern Ireland. This included 14 cases of lead theft; 754 cases of general thefts; 548 cases of criminal damage/ vandalism and 130 cases of violence.
 
 
Conclusion
While the Countryside Alliance is a firmly rural focused campaigning organisation, we believe it is entirely appropriate to release these figures. It is important to paint a picture of what is happening across the country in relation to crimes being committed at churches and religious buildings. We believe this information is within the public interest.
We can see that this is indeed a massive problem and that the public must be aware of what has been happening either in or on church premises.
 
NOTE: If using the figures from this report, please cite the Countryside Alliance.
 
Countryside Alliance quote in response to the figures:

 
Mo Metcalf- Fisher of the Countryside Alliance said:
 
“These figures make for extremely distressing reading and paint a bleak picture. What’s worse, is that there are likely many, many more incidents like these recorded but that haven’t been disclosed to us. 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. These figures serve as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote. 20,000 new police officers pledged by the government is a good sign, but we need to ensure officers are being sent to rural and remote locations.”

 

Posted in

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. Find out more on how we use cookies and how you can change your settings by reading our Cookie Policy