Lead thieves leave their haul after targeting Harborough church

St Mary's Church in Willoughby Waterleys
St Mary's Church in Willoughby Waterleys

Leads thieves left thousands of pounds worth of lead in a Harborough district churchyard, after apparently being interrupted mid-crime.

The lead had been taken from the roof of St Mary’s church in Willoughby Waterleys, near Lutterworth, on Tuesday, July 17.

But police had been called by villagers, after they heard noises from the churchyard in the early hours.

And when police arrived, though the thieves had gone, the lead taken from the roof was still there – rolled up in the churchyard.

St Mary’s church warden Val Connolly told the Mail: “They didn’t catch our thieves, unfortunately, although a person was apprehended the same night in Peatling Parva.

“But our lead was still there, and we spent two hours – from about 2am until 4am – locking it all away in the church, in case the thieves came back to get it.”

The bad news is the lead can not simply be put back on the roof.

“It’s too bent and damaged; it will still have to be replaced” said Val.

Thieves had stripped about half the lead from the roof of the Grade II* listed, mainly 14th century church.

But one local resident heard noises from the church and the police were called.

Now villagers must raise thousands of pounds to replace the roof – either with lead or with a cheaper substitute.

“I personally don’t see the point of putting lead back on” said Val. “We lost lead from the roof of this church in March this year. And thieves have ripped the lead off the roofs of every church in the vicinity.”

A spokesman for the National Churches Trust told the Mail: “The impact of lead theft can be devastating on a church, causing structural damage necessitating lengthy and potentially expensive repairs.

“Lead theft from church roofs has become increasingly professional. Organised gangs are often involved in stealing lead. These gangs use articulated lorries and a team of lead strippers. Two hours work can give them seven or eight tons of lead. In parts of the country, it is thought that gangs take the lead to sell in continental Europe.

“Better prevention is required, like roof alarms. Action by the police needs to be stepped up to both catch metal thieves and to carry out checks on scrap metal dealers.”