CHURCHES across Oxfordshire are being urged to be on the alert following a new spate of roof lead thefts.

The Oxford Diocese, which serves churches in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, has warned that lead thefts at places of worship ‘have rocketed’.

Four churches in villages north of Oxford, including St Olave’s in Fritwell, near Bicester, have had lead stolen from roofs.

One parishioner said on Facebook: “Two low lifes ripped the lead off the church roof in Fritwell in the early hours of this morning.

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“One plucky villager chased them when they had trouble with their car, they abandoned their car full of lead and ran off. This morning was spend trying to make the church waterproof to limit further damage. It is going to cost thousands to put right.”

READ AGAIN: String of lead thefts from north Oxfordshire churches

The thefts cause damage both inside and outside the buildings, create disruption to services including weddings and funerals and are a huge burden for fundraising by small rural communities and congregations.

Oxford Diocese is appealing for help to protect vulnerable buildings.

Senior Church Buildings Officer Liz Kitch said: “It can be easy to assume that vehicles parked near a church are carrying out authorised work but this is often not the case.

READ AGAIN: Lead stolen from church roofs in Oxfordshire

“Please watch for vans and estate cars, often at unusual times of day or night and alert the police.”

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The Archdeacon of Buckingham, the Venerable Guy Elsmore, manages the area where many of the latest thefts have occurred. “Churches are cared for by those who attend, but they belong to the whole community. These crimes are a huge challenge which affects people who no longer have other traditional gathering places such as schools and pubs in their villages.”

St Mary’s Church in East Claydon, Buckinghamshire, was in the process of putting in roof alarms when the thieves struck.

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Rev Rickey Simpson-Gray, who has only been in his post for only eight weeks, said: “It is heartbreaking to realise that had roof alarms been in place we would have been fully insured, but sadly we were two weeks too late. We now face bills of £70,000.

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“The members of the church would much rather spend their time and money on serving our local community, but once again our focus must turn to our building.”

The diocese is encouraging the purchase of roof alarms which has resulted in far fewer thefts and led to prosecutions. All churches are encouraged to invest in this protection which affects the level of insurance paid out.

The diocese said in April 18 churches had been hit since the summer.

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In Oxfordshire, churches are encouraged to apply for a grant from the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust, who have recently received extra funding for this purpose from the Allchurches Trust, and will fund up to 50 per cent (to a maximum of £2,500) towards installation.

Some church roof lead is now being replaced with stainless steel.

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