Four parish churches in North and East Yorkshire have been attacked by lead thieves in the last ten days.

Serious damage has been inflicted on St Peter’s Langtoft, St Mary’s Lockington and St Peter's Wawne, where large areas of lead have been stolen, and an attempt was made to steal lead at St Peter’s Hutton Cranswick which – on this occasion – resulted only in minor damage.

A recent sharp increase in scrap metal values on world markets has emboldened criminals to steal the lead sheeting that covers many ancient church roofs.

Frequently the roof is out of sight from ground level and the first sign of the damage is serious water ingress, causing major damage to historic structures, fabric and artwork underneath.

The Diocese of York (the Church of England from the A1 to the Yorkshire coast and from the Tees to the Humber) includes 467 listed buildings, many with lead-covered roofs.

The Diocese is sometimes able to offer help to local parochial church councils (PCCs) to contribute to the cost of installing monitored alarm systems to protect vulnerable roofs.

Installation of an alarm significantly reduces the threat of lead theft, but may also result in a more substantial insurance settlement if the worst happens.

Diocesan Church Buildings Adviser Keith Halliday said, “This is a national problem for the whole Church of England, and we’re working closely with the police and with local churches to support measures to protect churches from these attacks.

“Whether you’re a churchgoer or not, these buildings belong to their community and they’re a living record of the place they serve.

“Everyone is hurt by these thefts, and in the end the best protection against them is vigilance by everyone in the parish.”