Vicar ‘sickened’ after thieves strike at Mettingham Church in north Suffolk

Rev Ian Byrne and church warden Gillian Evans at Mettingham Church. A meeting is set to take place t

Rev Ian Byrne and church warden Gillian Evans at Mettingham Church. A meeting is set to take place to discuss the future of the church after thieves stole lead from the roof. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Richard Wood

The latest theft of lead from a country church roof has highlighted the vulnerability of some of our most cherished buildings in Suffolk and Norfolk.

The Rev Ian Byrne said he was “sickened” to discover thieves had struck at All Saints Church in Mettingham again – just two years after it was faced with closure due to having to cover the costs of earlier thefts from its roof.

A 15m x 10m section of lead was taken overnight from Saturday into Sunday leaving the church faced with costs of £80,000 to replace and repair it.

Whereas last time Mr Byrne and his parishioners were “desperately upset” by the attack, he says the community has now become resigned to the recurrence of the problem.

Villagers had shown “staggering generosity” in raising money for the new roof, he added. This time, however, Mr Byrne will be using a cheaper roofing material rather than spending more cash on lead only to have it stolen again – no matter what the heritage campaigners have to say.

“Why would I replace like for like and make the building a target when I know they will come back again,” he said.

“I don’t care about pretty – I’m only interested in protecting the church and I’m fed up of being dictated to by self-appointed organisations.”

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He accused the thieves of being heartless and said his thoughts of them were “unrepeatable”.

“There’s a feeling of intrusion and being abused by a bunch of people who don’t care and have no moral thoughts at all,” he said.

“The problem is it diverts me from my actual role as a parish priest; it’s wasting my time, and there’s not enough of us to go round when it comes to the pastoral care of the community as it is.”

Anyone with information about is asked to call 101.

John Howard, spokesman for the Church of England in Suffolk, said: “Where possible churches have usually been encouraged to replace lead with lead.

“But each case is considered individually. Where theft has been a problem, we have allowed some churches to replace lead with a lead-like material, such as turn-coated stainless steel and the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich works closely with other interested parties such as English Heritage to reach agreement on this.

“I can’t comment in detail on Mettingham, because the case has not yet been presented to our Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) for the care of churches. But I can say that the committee consider all options that are brought before it,” he said.

“The cost of lead replacement is very high to the parish in monetary and emotional terms. Insurance companies will only cover a very small percentage of the lead replacement and terms and conditions do apply. The parochial church council can talk to its insurer or the DAC Secretary for further advice.

“But there are ways in which churches everywhere can protect their lead roofs such as painting it with Smart Water, installing an alarm system, or displaying signs to say the roof is protected.

“In the last few weeks we have seen a recurrence of lead thefts across Suffolk - three in the west of the county at Dalham, Icklingham and Chevington and one in the east at Mettingham. I am also aware of similar incidents in Ely Diocese and Norwich Diocese. If any suspicious activity is suspected by people living near their churches then my advice would be to contact the police immediately,” said Mr Howard.