by Mo Metcalf Fisher

Over 4,000 crimes have been committed at churches and religious premises over the last year, according to new data obtained by the Countryside Alliance.

Figures from 38 of the country's 45 territorial police forces reveal there were 4,051 incidents of theft, vandalism, assault or burglary across the UK in the 12 months to July this year, despite eight months of lockdown restrictions.

The figures were obtained by the Countryside Alliance as part of its ongoing call to focus attention on rural churches and increase funding for security at places of worship.

The latest 2020/21 figures reveal that some 115 lead thefts were recorded along with 1336 thefts, 1688 incidents of vandalism and criminal damage - including arson- and 824 incidents of violence, including sexual assault and assault on an officer. 207 incidents were specifically marked as burglary, as well as other crimes including stalking, malicious communications, hate crime and drug possession.

The worst-hit areas are largely in the south-east of England with Sussex Police recording 367 crimes, Kent 209 cases and the Metropolitan Police 575.

Last year, a vicar at Chadwell Heath Baptist Church in east London tackled a vandal trying to rip a cross off the church roof and held him until police arrived to arrest the suspect.

In Sussex, police recorded six sexual assaults including a rape in a churchyard while there was another alleged rape of an underage girl and three sex offences in cemeteries.

Other offences include thieves stealing lead from the roof of St Saviour's Church in Eastbourne last year and vandalising its war memorial.

Mo Metcalf- Fisher, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said: “We are presented with a grim reality that many churches and places of worship are being treated as easy targets by criminals.

“These are supposed to be places where people go to seek solace, but all too often they subjected to heinous crimes, either in or on their property. 

“We cannot allow these precious places, which are often the centre of villages and towns across the country, to go unguarded and be so exposed.

“Irrespective of faith, ensuring the public keep an ever watchful eye on churches and reporting suspicious behaviour to police is vital as is easy access protective funding schemes.” 

The organisation’s annual report into crimes on churches and religious buildings has revealed a total of 30,169 incidents in four years, with data obtained under Freedom of Information laws going back to 2017.

Combined totals in each of the four categories reveal 11,569 thefts of which 1,446 involved lead and metal, 8,016 incidents of criminal damage and 2,594 incidents of violence since 2017.

Nottinghamshire Police recorded incidents of weapons possession, hate crime and malicious communications at churches and religious buildings in the county.

Crimes in South Yorkshire churches and cemeteries included incidents of kidnapping, stalking, drug trafficking, possession of weapons charges and the sexual assault of a male over the age of 13.

Meanwhile in West Yorkshire, there were five records of arson and 45 burglaries recorded by police.

And in Caldecote, Hertfordshire, vandals smashed the church windows of 15th century St Mary Magdalene's in August, which had just reopened after paying £150,000 to repair criminal damage.

Overall there has been a decrease nationally since last year in crimes committed at churches, according to the data obtained. South Wales, Cleveland, Cumbria, Essex, Hertfordshire and Greater Manchester were the six forces to return increases from last year.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Church of England said:  "The Church of England has nearly 16,000 buildings and is a presence in every community, it provides a space that is available to all that includes churchyards."

"Crime on church premises is not always crime directed against the church. We encourage churches to engage with the police and others over crime on their premises."

Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Nolan, National Police Chiefs' Council lead for heritage crime, said: "Metal theft is still a problem that blights all aspects of society and the targeting of churches for metal is one area in which we work closely with heritage organisations across the UK to help protect potential victims of crime."

"Over the last twelve months there have been two national weeks of intensification focused on metal crime, leading to thousands of items of stolen property being recovered, hundreds of arrests and the disruption of criminal activity in the waste industry."

"This work continues and while we have seen a reduction in metal crime nationally, we have a renewed focus to ensure that those who engage in thefts of these types have nowhere to run."

Background

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the following questions were asked to all 45 territorial forces  in August 2021:

1) How many incidents have been reported to your force of thefts being carried out in Churches or on church property from July 2020-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 2020 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 2020 -to as close to present as possible?

Note: If it is the case that ‘church’ is not logged as a location, please do include search to contain log of ‘religious building/s’.

39 forces of 45 responded to the FOI request. Those who did not provide data included: Police Scotland, West Mercia, Wiltshire, Durham, Hampshire, Avon and Somerset and Thames Valley. The City of London Police returned 0 results for each category.

The results from the FOI

Overall there has been a decrease nationally in crimes committed at churches, according to the data obtained. South Wales, Cleveland, Cumbria, Essex, Hertfordshire and Greater Manchester were the six forces to return increases from last year.

Cases in this instance, refers to incidents. The time ranges from July 2020 (in all examples) to August 2021. ‘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

No response returned.

Bedfordshire

Bedfordshire Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 65 crimes have been recorded at churches in Bedfordshire. This includes 18 thefts of which 1 relates to metal, 22 cases of criminal damage, and 14 cases of violence. Items listed as stolen include wine, a handbag, a headstone and a candlestick.

Cambridgeshire

Cambridgeshire Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 72 crimes have been recorded at churches in Cambridgeshire. This includes 36 thefts of which 0 relate to metal, 32 cases of criminal damage and four cases of violence.

Cheshire

Cheshire Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 52 crimes have been recorded at churches in Cheshire. This includes 8 thefts, 30 cases of criminal damage and 13 cases of 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, 54 crimes have been recorded at churches in the Cleveland area. This is an increase of 26 crimes from last year. Cleveland Police cover the districts of Hartlepool, Redcar & Cleveland, Stockton and Middlesbrough. The total includes 14 thefts of which four relate to metal. There were also 40 cases of criminal damage recorded.

Cumbria

Cumbria Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 58 crimes have been recorded at churches in Cumbria. This is an increase of 11 crimes from last year. This includes 10 thefts of which 1 relates to metal. 31 cases of criminal damage and 17 cases of violence.

Derbyshire

Derbyshire Police responded to the FOI in full. In total 32 crimes have been recorded at churches/ religious buildings. This total includes 21 thefts, four metal thefts and seven cases of criminal damage.

Devon and Cornwall

Devon and Cornwall Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 137 crimes have been recorded at churches/ abbey/ cathedral/ chapel/ temple/ vicarage. This includes 51 thefts of which one relates to metal. 71 cases of criminal damage and 15 cases of violence.

Dorset

Dorset Police responded to the FOI in full. In total, 39 crimes have been recorded at churches in Dorset. This includes 12 thefts, 21 cases of criminal damage and six 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, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire as well the unitary authority of Powys in Wales. In total, 33 crimes have been recorded at churches in the Dfyed Powys area. This includes 11 thefts of which 3 relate to metal theft, 19 cases of criminal damage and three cases of violence. 

Essex

Essex Police responded in part to the FOI request. In total, 132 crimes have been recorded at churches in Essex. This is an increase of four crimes from last year. This includes 37 thefts of which 8 relate to metal, 58 cases of criminal damage and 37 cases of violence.

Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire Police responded in full to the request. In total, 53 crimes have been recorded at churches in Gloucestershire. This includes 12 thefts of which two relate to metal, 29 cases of criminal damage and 12 cases of violence.

Greater Manchester

Greater Manchester Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 102 crimes have been recorded as being carried out at churches (or Abbey, Cathedral and Chapel). This is an increase of 19 crimes from last year. This includes 47 thefts of which 2 relate to metal, 27 cases of criminal damage and 28 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, 23 crimes have been recorded as being carried out at churches in Gwent. This total includes 9 thefts of which 2 relate to metal and 14 cases of criminal damage.

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, 116 crimes have been recorded at churches in Hertfordshire. This is an increase of 108 crimes from last year, the highest increase recorded by any force. The total includes 65 thefts of which 5 relate to metal, 34 cases of criminal damage and 17 cases of violence.

Humberside

Humberside Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 71 crimes have been recorded at churches in Humberside. The includes 27 thefts of which 1 relates to metal, 37 cases of criminal damage and seven cases of violence.

Kent

Kent Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 209 crimes have been recorded at churches in Kent. Within the data breakdown supplied by the force, there were 57 thefts of which nine related to metal, 101 cases of criminal damage and 24 cases of violence. 27 crimes remain unrecorded by a category.

Lancashire

Lancashire Police responded to the FOI request. In total 165 crimes have been recorded at churches in Lancashire. This includes 42 thefts of which 11 relate to metal, 76 cases of criminal damage and 47 cases of violence.

Leicestershire

Leicestershire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 98 crimes have been recorded at churches/ religious buildings/ churchyards in Leicestershire. This includes 43 thefts of which two relate to metal, 35 cases of criminal damage or arson and 20 cases of violence.

Lincolnshire

Lincolnshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 40 crimes have been recorded at churches in Lincolnshire. This includes 10 thefts of which one relates to metal, 22 cases of criminal damage and eight cases of violence.

Merseyside

Merseyside Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total 149 crimes have been recorded at churches, churchyards, and cemeteries in Merseyside. The includes 59 thefts of which three relate to metal, 58 cases of criminal damage and 32 cases of violence.

Metropolitan Police

The Metropolitan Police responded in full to the FOI request, however their search included all religious buildings. In total 575 crimes have been recorded. This includes 168 thefts of which five relate to metal, 188 cases of criminal damage and 219 cases of violence.

Ministry of Defence

The Ministry of Defence Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 4 crimes have been recorded at churches from their records.

Norfolk

Norfolk Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 64 crimes have been recorded at churches in Norfolk. This includes 26 thefts of which 11 relate to metal, 35 cases of criminal damage and 3 cases of violence.

North Wales

North Wales Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 64 crimes have been recorded at churches in North Wales. This total includes 22 thefts, 35 cases of criminal damage and 7 cases of violence.

North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 53 crimes have been recorded at churches in North Yorkshire. This total includes 15 thefts of which one relates to metal, 30 cases of criminal damage and eight cases of violence.

Northamptonshire

Northamptonshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 91 crimes have been recorded at churches in Northamptonshire. This includes 45 thefts, 21 cases of criminal damage and 25 cases of violence.

Northern Ireland

The Police Service of Northern Ireland responded in full to the request. In total 202 crimes were recorded at churches/ religious buildings or churchyards in Northern Ireland. This total includes 63 thefts of which one relates to metal theft, 115 cases of criminal damage and 24 cases of violence.

Northumbria

Northumbria Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 87 crimes have been recorded at churches in Northumbria. This includes 25 thefts of which nine relate to ‘lead being taken from the roof’, 61 cases of criminal damage and 1 case of violence.

Nottinghamshire

Nottinghamshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 108 crimes have been recorded at churches in Nottinghamshire. 32 cases relate to theft (including burglary), 37 cases of criminal damage and nine cases of violence. There are also 30 other crimes recorded including malicious communications, drugs possession and hate incidents. 

South Wales

South Wales Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 116 crimes have been recorded at churches in South Wales. This is an increase of 41 crimes from last year. This includes 40 thefts of which six related to lead being taken from a church roof, 30 cases of damage and 40 cases of violence.

South Yorkshire

South Yorkshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total 227 crimes have been recorded at churches and places of worship. This total includes 81 cases of theft of which five relate to metal theft, 65 cases of criminal damage and 43 cases of violence. Other crimes have been recorded including voyeurism, stalking and drugs possession. 

Staffordshire

Staffordshire Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 37 crimes have been recorded at churches/ chapel/ cathedrals in Staffordshire. This includes 15 cases of theft of which one relates to metal, 20 cases of criminal damage and two cases of violence.

Suffolk

Suffolk Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 75 crimes have been recorded at churches in Suffolk. This includes 33 thefts of which five relate to metal, 37 cases of criminal damage and five cases of violence.

Surrey

Surrey Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 94 crimes have been recorded at churches in Surrey. This includes 23 thefts of which two relate to metal, 47 cases of criminal damage and 24 cases of violence.

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 367 crimes. This includes, but is not limited to, 54 thefts of which one relates to metal, 106 cases of criminal damage and 44 cases of violence.

Thames Valley

Thames Valley Police did not provide a response.

Warwickshire

Warwickshire Police did not provide a response.

West Mercia

At the time of writing, West Mercia Police had not responded in full to our request, citing a delay.

West Midlands

West Midlands Police responded in full to the FOI request. In total, 9 crimes have been recorded at churches in the West Midlands. This includes three thefts, 2 cases of criminal damage and four cases of violence.

West Yorkshire

West Yorkshire Police responded in full to the FOI request with figures from ‘all religious buildings’. In total, 189 crimes were recorded at churches/ religious buildings. This includes 76 thefts of which 4 relate to lead, 58 cases of criminal damage and 42 cases of violence. Other crimes listed include vehicle offences and public order offences.

Wiltshire Police

Wiltshire Police refused the request.

Police Scotland

Police Scotland did not respond to the request.

 

 The places of worship (PoW) protective security funding scheme is a government commitment in the 2016-2020 hate crime action plan. For further information, please click here. No details have been updated in relation to this important scheme for 2021/ 22 and we shall be seeking clarification as to its future. 

 

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