Church faces costs over roof

A RURAL church has been left with a hefty bill after thieves stole thousands of pounds worth of lead for the third time in five months.

The sought-after metal was stolen from the roof of St Mary’s Church in Ellingham.

Builders discovered the crime when they arrived at the medieval church last Thursday to start work on fixing damage caused by the previous theft just three weeks earlier.

The offenders also smashed one of the old leaded windows and the loss of lead has led to water damage inside the church, ruining an oak screen which was a memorial to a well-respected parishioner who died a few years ago.

As it is the third time such a crime has taken place, the insurance will not pay out and parishioners will have to foot the bill. It is believed it will cost up to �30,000 to replace the whole roof.

The Rev Julie Oddy-Bates, priest in charge at Waveney, said: “It’s getting a bit much now. They are obviously targeting the church. Unfortunately, the insurance will only pay out �5,000 in any given year and we’ve gone above that now, so it’s going to have to come from parishioners.

“Our Diocese has a wealth of beautiful medieval churches and the congregations work very hard at maintaining them, but this kind of wanton damage is very disheartening.”

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Currently, three windows at the historic church are boarded up and there is scaffolding along one side of the building.

Mrs Oddy-Bates said they were hoping to replace the lead with zinc, which is cheaper, but this will need to be discussed with English Heritage.

It is likely the work will not be completed before Christmas, a time in which the church is at its busiest with a range of festive events including a five-parish Christmas carol service.

The news has also come as a blow to a bride, who grew up in the village and now lives in London, as she is due to get married in the ancient church on December 11.

Mrs Oddy-Bates added: “She is extremely upset about the prospect of boarded windows and scaffolding along the whole of one side of the building, not to mention the water-stained walls and screen.”

The theft from St Mary’s is the latest in a long line of similar incidents at medieval buildings across the region.

Earlier this month, thieves stole lead valued at thousands of pounds from the Church of St Nicholas in Wrentham.

Two thousand pounds worth of the costly metal was also stolen from St Andrew’s Hall in Norwich. The crime, prompted heritage chiefs to put out a warning to thieves, urging them to think about the damage they are doing to medieval buildings.