Police foiled a planned theft from a Derbyshire Dales church, which was pre-meditated possibly weeks earlier, it has emerged.
Derbyshire Constabulary have made an appeal for people to be vigilant after a spate of church thefts over the past few months, targeting lead roofing and even breaking into a locked safe to steal valuable antiques.
Officcers have been waiting for a lead to bring down the gang responsible for the crimes, which are believed to be linked, and there may be new hope for the churches being targeted as an attempted theft on May 17 was scuppered by officers.
Thieves climbed onto the roof of St Giles Church in Great Longstone at around Midnight on the Sunday before officers arrived at the scene to catch them in the act and causing them to flee across nearby fields.
A spokesperson said: “They had peeled back a large quantity of lead from the roof and were obviously scared away when officers arrived.
“Two vehicles have been seized, a van and a Peugeot, and we have contacted the police where the vehicles are registered in West Midlands and Surray.
Churchwarden at St Giles, Mike Hirst, 79, said confirmed that the theft had been stopped.
He added: “It was foiled fortunately, they hadn’t got the lead off the roof.
“They had parked two vehicles in the Crispin pub car park, which must have looked suspicious because the police were called and were luckily only five minutes away, so when they arrived the thieves were disturbed and left two vehicles behind.”
And the theft may have been premeditated, added Mr Hirst, as the gang are believed to have done their reconnaissance on the church a week before.
“They had come by on the Saturday before and removed one of our sensors from the roof. The alarm must have gone off but nobody heard it.
“It was a heist, weeks in the planning.”
“The police are quite pleased because they think it’s the same gang who have been doing all the churches around here.”
The theft follows a number of similar offenses in the past few months.
Thieves used ladders to climb the roof of Eyam Parish Church on March 20, taking away large sections of the roof, and two thefts were reported on the same night, on April 29, with £20,000 with of lead stolen from Bradley All Saints Church in Ashbourne and 250-year old priceless silverware taken form a locked safe at St Mary’s in Wirksworth.
St Giles has also been targeted previously in 2008, with £10,000-worth of lead roofing stolen.
Now the local Safer Neighbourhood team is asking residents to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity.
If you have any information please contact PC Andrew Shaw on 101, quoting crime number 20802/15, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.