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Thefts from Churches

Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

What recent assessment the Church of England has made of trends in the level of thefts from churches.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Chair, Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill Committee

As we have seen all too clearly in the recent very heavy rainfall, wet weather is often the moment we realise we have a hole in the roof, and, sadly, many churches have discovered that through the theft of lead from church roofs. It is only when the weather turns inclement that thousands of pounds worth of damage is done, which small congregations simply do not have the resources to meet. The Church is working closely with the police and other partners to raise awareness and encourage local parishes to take precautions, such as having roof alarms or SmartWater marking, so we can fend off what is organised crime.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

May I, too, join in the tributes to the right hon. Lady in this role and the other roles that she has had in this place and say that I am sad she is leaving, and I am sad that she cited some of the abuse that she has received as one of the reasons that she is leaving this place?

On the specific question, what work is going on to consider the replacement of lead roofs with those of other materials such as steel or zinc?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Chair, Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill Committee

I thank the hon. Lady for those very kind words, and indeed, with the full support of my staff, I did speak out about the abuse we face and that might perhaps be part of my legacy to this place; I hope sincerely that those who are returned will really do something about it, particularly by tackling the wild west of the internet where there is not sufficient regulation of what is expressed, although I commend the guidance given by the Church of England about how to navigate the internet wisely.

On the point raised, it is important to share the following information, because theft from churches, particularly of roofs, affects many colleagues. New guidance has been published by Historic England on non-lead metal roofs for churches, to deter the risk of metal theft. It is important to note that even a grade 1 listed building can be fitted with lead substitutes, which do not therefore attract the type of crime that I described at the beginning and is causing so much damage and cost.