by Countryside Alliance

The latest report from the Countryside Alliance examining the number of crimes against churches and other religious buildings has been released, one year on from our previous report which found that over 20,000 crimes had been committed on or at churches and religious buildings in just over 2 years. 

Criminals targeting churches and religious buildings in the UK are responsible for almost 6,000 crimes in the last year alone.

Figures from 37 of the country's 45 territorial police forces showed there were 5,831 incidents including theft, vandalism, assault, and burglary across the UK in just 12 months.

The figures include 278 lead and metal thefts, 2152 general thefts, 1750 cases of vandalism, arson or criminal damage and 946 cases of assault . As well as this, there are 534 cases marked as burglary and 171 other crimes including stalking, malicious communications, and drug possession. 

The Metropolitan Police recorded some 1,106 crimes in religious locations alone, which include 250 cases of violence against the person, 273 burglaries, 188 offences of arson and criminal damage and 359 thefts –  working out at an average of more than one a day. The Met figures come in the wake of viral video footage showing a male suspect appearing to rip off a large wooden crucifix after scaling the roof of Chadwell Heath Baptist Church in East London. He was tackled by the reverend before police arrived at the scene.

Items stolen in Nottingham include records showing handbags, plant pots, a CCTV camera and food for collection.

Sussex Police recorded ‘exposure and voyeurism’ in one local cemetery while sexual offences in the area’s churchyards included six sexual assaults on a female aged 13 or over.

In April this year, at the height of lockdown, suspected thieves (s) in Cheshire gained entry to a church building via force and carried out a search of the premises before making off empty handed.

Crimes recorded in South Yorkshire churches and cemeteries included incidents of drug trafficking, possession of weapons charges and three rapes of a female child under 13. South Yorkshire also had the highest number of reported lead thefts, with 22 alone in the year.

Background

Last year, the Countryside Alliance revealed that over 20,000 crimes had been reported at churches and other places of worship across the country over a two-year period. These included multiple reports of vandalism, assault, arson, theft- including lead theft- and burglary.

The report was compiled by using responses obtained from UK police forces across the country under the Freedom of Information Act.

As an exclusively rural campaigning organisation, the Countryside Alliance seldom comments on issues facing the wider country but due to the wide scope of the information obtained, we felt it important to release the information into the public domain in the public interest.

Over the years, the Countryside Alliance has received multiple reports from supporters and concerned residents living in rural areas about crimes being committed at local churches, namely cases of lead theft. Up until last year, there was no clear example of publicly accessible data, which made it difficult to access the scale of the problem on a county by county basis.

With only anecdotal evidence and newspaper reports from the archives, the Countryside Alliance compiled a data table using the results obtained from 40 of the 45 territorial police forces that complied with the FOI request.

The following questions were asked to all 45 territorial forces:

  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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 caveats that come with the FOI act, mean that limitations were put on the type of questions we could ask. Some forces were unable to provide full responses, while others (the Metropolitan Police for example) detailed all places of worship.

Section 12 of the FOI Act 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.

Another notable caveat with the question asked is that while the figures on a county to county basis are incredibly helpful for determining the scale of the problem nationwide, they do not tell us the exact location, church or religious building name relating to the crime in question. However, the news archives provide a useful place to look, when attempting to link crimes recorded within the data to specific examples.

In some cases, lead theft has been returned as ‘metal theft’.

At the time of the last report, which received considerable national coverage, the Alliance issued the following statement:

“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.”

The 2020 report

One year on and with reports of lead thefts circulating once again in the media, the Alliance undertook the same set of questions, altering only the dates. The purpose of this, was to see if there had been any changes, particularly as the country had been put under lockdown measures.  

The questions put to each of the UK’s 45 territorial police forces were as follows:

1) How many incidents have been reported to your force of thefts being carried out in Churches or on church property from July 2019-to as close to present as possible?

a) 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 July 2019 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 July 2019 -to as close to present as possible?

The following noted was added this time: ‘If it is the case that ‘church’ is not logged as a location, please do include search to contain log of ‘religious building/s’.’

As of the date of publication, we received 39* responses from the 45 forces contacted.

Police Scotland and Hampshire Police outright denied the request, as they did the previous year.

Responses remain outstanding for Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

*Please see note with Lancashire.

The results from the FOI

Cases in this instance, refers to incidents. The time ranges from July 2019 (in all examples) to July 2020 or August 2020. ‘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. In some cases, forces have created separate returns for crimes listed as burglaries. These are specified, where appropriate.

Although we have provided national totals for the crimes disclosed, county examples should be viewed individually as the method for recording crimes varies from force to force. In some instances, for example, a force will record theft and burglary as two seperate crimes.  Some forces may present figures in relation to sexual offences  as seperate to the assault figures. 

Avon and Somerset

At time of writing, an appeal has been sent asking to review a decision to decline responding to the FOI in full. 

Bedfordshire

Bedfordshire Police responded to the FOI in full, adding an additional column of ‘other offences.’ In total, 90 crimes have been recorded at churches. Of this total, 2 cases related to lead theft; 53 related to general theft; 20 cases relating to criminal damage, including arson; 8 recorded cases of violence, including 7 ‘other’ offences ‘incl. drugs, sexual offences and public order etc’.

Cambridgeshire

Cambridgeshire Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 168 crimes have been recorded at churches in Cambridgeshire. Of this total, 9 cases related to lead thefts; 100 related to general theft; 33 cases relating to vandalism and 26 cases of violence.

Cheshire

Cheshire Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 66 crimes have been recorded at churches in Cheshire. Of this total, 4 cases related to lead theft; 18 cases related to general thefts; 32 cases related to vandalism and 12 cases related to violence.

City of London

The City of London Police returned 0 in all cases.

Cleveland

Cleveland Police responded in part to the FOI in full. In total, 28 crimes have been recorded at churches in the Cleveland area. Cleveland Police cover the districts of Hartlepool, Redcar & Cleveland, Stockton and Middlesbrough. Of the 28 recorded crimes, 9 relate to lead theft; 18 to general theft and 1 case of violence.

Cumbria

Cumbria Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 47 crimes have been recorded at churches in Cumbria. Of this total, 0 relate to lead theft; 12 cases related to general thefts; 21 cases relating to criminal damage and 14 cases related to violence.

Derbyshire

Derbyshire Police responded to the FOI in full. In total 33 crimes have been recorded at churches/ religious buildings. This total includes 4 cases of lead thefts; 20 cases of general thefts; 7 cases relating to criminal damage/ vandalism and 2 cases relating to assaults.

Devon and Cornwall

Devon and Cornwall Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 212 crimes have been recorded at churches/ abbey/ cathedral/ chapel/ temple/ vicarage. This total includes 5 cases of lead theft; 62 cases of general thefts; 80 cases of criminal damage and 27 cases of violence and 38 burglaries.

Dorset

Dorset Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 66 crimes have been recorded at churches in Dorset. This total includes 4 cases of lead theft; 25 general thefts; 33 cases of criminal damage and 4 cases of violence.

Durham

Durham Police did not comply with the request.

Dfyed Powys

Dfyed Powys Police responded in full to the FOI. Dfyed Powys covers Carmarthenshire, Caredigion and Pembrokeshire as well the unitary authority of Powys in Wales. In total, 62 crimes have been recorded at churches in the Dfyed Powys area. This includes 6 cases of lead theft; 30 cases of general theft; 21 cases of vandalism and 5 cases of violence.

Essex

Essex Police responded in part to the FOI request. In total, 128 crimes have been recorded at churches in Essex. This total includes 78 cases of general thefts; 43 cases of criminal damage and 7 cases of violence against a person. There are no cases of lead thefts returned in the data.

Gloucestershire

Pending as of 19/10/2020

Greater Manchester

Greater Manchester Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 83 crimes have been recorded as being carried out at churches (or Abbey, Cathedral and Chapel). This total includes 6 cases of lead thefts; 41 cases of general thefts; 23 cases of vandalism and 13 cases of violence

Gwent

Gwent Police responded in full to the FOI request. Gwent police cover Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire, Newport and Torfaen. In total, 72 crimes have been recorded as being carried out in Churches in Gwent. This total includes 9 cases of lead theft; 37 of general thefts; 14 cases of criminal damage/ vandalism and 12 cases of violence.

Hampshire

Hampshire Police replied to state they would not be able to complete the FOI request.

Hertfordshire

Hertfordshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 8 crimes have been recorded at churches in Hertfordshire. The total includes 1 cases of lead theft; 3 cases of general thefts; 3 cases of criminal damage and 1 case of violence.

Humberside

Humberside Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 143 crimes have been recorded at churches in Humberside. The total includes 14 cases of lead theft; 27 cases of general thefts; 84 cases of criminal damage and 18 cases of violence.

Kent

Kent Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 215 crimes have been recorded at churches in Kent. The total includes 8 cases of lead theft; 58 cases of general thefts; 102 cases of criminal damage and 47 cases of violence against a person.

Lancashire

Lancashire Police responded to the FOI request, however there are some concerns with the feedback. The force responded with figures, which have been included (but highlighted in yellow) but included a note to say records include those that have ‘Church in the first line of the address’. This could mean that the results to do not specifically refer to ‘building type church’. It has therefore been determined that while the figures could indeed relate to churches, not all do. Therefore, caution is advised, and the Lancashire figures have been omitted from the final total.  

Leicestershire

Leicestershire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 130 crimes have been recorded at churches/ religious buildings/ churchyards in Leicestershire. The total includes 10 cases of lead thefts; 54 cases of general thefts; 39 cases of criminal damage (including Arson) and 27 cases of violence.

Lincolnshire

Lincolnshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 109 crimes have been recorded at churches in Lincolnshire. The total includes 11 cases of lead theft; 58 cases of general thefts; 31 cases of criminal damage and 9 cases of violence.

Merseyside

Merseyside Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total 182 crimes have been recorded at churches, churchyards, and cemeteries in Merseyside. The total includes 7 cases of lead theft; 98 cases of general thefts; 60 cases of criminal damage and 17 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, 1,106 crimes have been recorded at churches and religious buildings in London. This total includes 12 cases of lead theft; 359 cases of general thefts; 188 cases of vandalism and 250 cases of violence, 24 cases of robbery and 273 burglary cases.

Norfolk

Norfolk Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 95 crimes have been recorded at churches in Norfolk. This total includes 9 cases of lead theft; 40 cases of general thefts; 37 cases of criminal damage and 9 cases of violence. This includes a case of child abduction in 2019.

North Wales

North Wales Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 78 crimes have been recorded out at churches in North Wales. This total includes 1 case of lead theft; 45 cases of general thefts; 30 cases criminal damage and 2 cases of violence.

Northamptonshire

Northamptonshire Police responded in full to the FOI request, providing more details on the crimes than most forces. In total, 125 crimes have been recorded at churches in Northamptonshire. This includes 17 cases of lead theft; 56 general thefts (excluding lead theft) including ‘Attempted Burglary, Robbery of Personal Property, Theft of Pedal Cycle and Theft of Motor’. 33 cases of criminal damage, which includes criminal damage from including ‘Threat of Criminal Damage, Arson Not Endangering Life and Criminal Damage To Dwellings’. There were 19 cases of violence, including ‘Assault without Injury, Assault with Injury, Assault with intent to cause Serious Injury, Racially and Religious Aggravated Assault and Sexual Assaults’.

Northumbria

Northumbria Police responded in full to the FOI request clarifying that the return only include churches and not any other religious building. In total, 158 crimes have been recorded at churches in Northumbria. This includes 13 cases of lead theft; 70 cases of general thefts; 70 cases of criminal damage and 5 cases of violence. This figure only includes assaults where physical violence has been used (threats of violence have not been included).

North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 136 crimes have been recorded at churches in North Yorkshire. This total includes 4 case of lead theft; 91 cases of general thefts; 27 cases of criminal damage and 14 cases of violence.

Nottinghamshire

Nottinghamshire Police responded in full to the FOI request, adding slightly more information than most forces. In total, 126 crimes have been recorded at churches in Nottinghamshire. This includes 11 cases of lead theft and 35 cases of general theft. This includes records showing thefts of handbags, plant pots, a CCTV camera and food for collection among items stolen. 63 cases of criminal damage including vehicles and dwellings and 17 cases of violence including malicious communications and racially or religiously aggravated harassment.

South Wales

South Wales Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 75 crimes have been recorded at churches in South Wales. This includes 8 cases of lead theft; 50 cases of general theft; 13 cases of criminal damage and 4 cases of violence against a person.

South Yorkshire

South Yorkshire Police responded in full to the FOI request, providing more details than most forces on the crimes committed. In total, 272 crimes have been recorded at churches/ chapels/ cathedral/ churchyard/ crematoriums in South Yorkshire. Crimes recorded in South Yorkshire churches and cemeteries included incidents of drug trafficking, possession of weapons charges and three rapes of a female child under 13. In total, this includes 22 cases of metal theft; 65 cases of general theft, including 8 thefts/ unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle and two pedal bike thefts. 52 cases relate to criminal damage; there are 38 cases of violence against a person including sexual assaults and rape. 56 cases have been marked as burglaries separately.

Staffordshire

Staffordshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 81 crimes have been recorded at churches/ chapel/ cathedrals in Staffordshire. This includes 5 cases of lead theft; 40 cases of general thefts; 24 cases of criminal damage and 12 cases of violence.

Suffolk

Suffolk Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 104 crimes have been recorded at churches in Suffolk. This includes 5 cases of lead theft; 47 cases of general thefts; 47 cases of criminal damage and 5 cases of violence including assault on a constable.

Surrey

Surrey Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 103 crimes have been recorded at churches in Surrey. This includes 3 cases of lead theft; 26 cases of general thefts; 43 cases of criminal damage; 7 cases of violent assaults and 24 burglaries.

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 394 crimes. This includes, but is not limited to, 12 cases of lead theft; 88 cases of general theft; 114 cases of criminal damage; 82 cases of violence including a case of voyeurism and exposure in a cemetery and 58 burglaries.

Thames Valley

Thames Valley Police did not respond to our request.

Warwickshire

Warwickshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 71 crimes have been recorded at churches in Warwickshire. This includes 4 cases of lead theft; 32 cases of general thefts; 26 cases of criminal damage and 9 cases of violence.

West Mercia

West Mercia Police responded in full to the FOI request. West Mercia police cover the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Worcestershire. The total number of crimes disclosed were 143. This included 10 cases of lead theft; 66 general thefts; 53 cases of criminal damage and 14 cases of violence.

West Midlands

West Midlands Police responded in part to the FOI request. The total number of crimes committed at churches and religious grounds in West Midland totalled 294. This included 20 cases of lead theft, 64 cases of general thefts and 64 cases of criminal damage and 146 cases of violence including both a case of sexual assault by penetration of a male child under and 13 and one of a female child under 13.

West Yorkshire

West Yorkshire Police responded in full to the FOI request with figures from ‘all places of worship’. In total, 352 crimes were recorded at churches/ religious buildings. This included 9 cases of lead theft; 71 cases of general theft;93 cases of criminal damage plus 6 cases of arson; 33 cases of violence and 86 cases of burglary. As well as this, there were additional cases of weapon possession, public order offences, stalking and harassment and vehicle offences.

Wiltshire Police

Wiltshire Police refused the request. An appeal has been lodged.

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 276 crimes were recorded at churches/ religious buildings or churchyards in Northern Ireland. This included 4 cases of lead theft; 115 cases of general thefts; 127 cases of criminal damage/ vandalism and 30 cases of violence.

In total, there have been 5,831* crimes reported in the last year at churches and religious buildings. This total is likely to go up, as and when the outstanding data is received.

*An earlier news article by the Mail on Sunday published the figure of 5,367 however some additional data has since been received.

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 remains a massive problem and that the public must be aware of what has been happening either in or on church premises, particularly with the likelihood of increased lockdowns seeming inevitable. Since our last report, there have been several notable developments.

Firstly, 90 places of worship are being added to Historic England's Heritage at Risk Register with almost half included because of the impact of crime such as lead theft. As well as this, in March 2020, the government carried out a consultation on what steps religious groups felt should be taken to provide greater protection from hate crime for places of worship. The consultation closed in June 2020 and the responses are yet to be made public.

This is Money reported that some 100 churches across the UK have opened up their car parks to help raise funds for church upkeep and security.

The move follows from the previous Countryside Alliance report that revealed over 20,000 crimes had been recorded on or in church and other religious property over 2 years, from 2017-2019.

The church claims that by having more people use the available parking spaces it has while increasing the general presence of visitors in and around church property, it has reduced the level of anti-social behaviour recorded.

St Wilfrid's Church's based in Harrogate is one of the churches who have have opened their car park for public use. Their facilities and commercial manager, Rebecca Oliver, said: 'The parking income helps to support the running costs of the church, which as a Grade I listed building are significant.’

The Places of Worship Security Funding Scheme also continues to offer places of worship and associated faith community centres that are vulnerable to hate crime, the ability to apply for funding for protective security measures. Applicants can submit bids for up to three protective security measures. Each applicant is required to contribute 20% of the total cost of the security measures. The maximum government funding available to any place of worship or associated faith community centre is £56,000. As part of any application, applicants need to provide evidence of vulnerability to hate crime that targets people because of their religion.

The scheme was first introduced in 2016 but simplified and expanded following the Christchurch (NZ) terror attack in 2019. The amount of funding available has doubled to £3.2 million from last year.

Since its introduction more than 180 grants have been awarded helping 76 churches,75 mosques, 23 gurdwaras and nine Hindu temples.

As of 2020, it is not yet known publicly whether the scheme will be extended and available in 2021, but it is advised potential applicants refer to the Gov.UK website.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher of the Countryside Alliance said: ‘The latest set of figures, out only a year after the incredibly distressing numbers in 2019, make for horrific reading. 

 ‘We cannot risk being engulfed by a church crime wave and clearly more needs to be done to tackle this problem. 

 ‘Taking into account that during some of this year, the country was in lockdown, it is chilling to learn that criminals either acting alone or in gangs have taken advantage of this awful pandemic and continued to target rural churches.

 ‘Of course, people need to have open access to our religious sanctuaries, but the warnings from last year backed up by these latest figures, must be heeded if we are to seriously protect our places of worship. We need to ramp up access to a greater amount of funding from the protective security scheme and ensure the scheme remains available going forward. It will also require greater vigilance from the public, particularly in rural areas, where suspicious activity must be reported to police.’

 

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