Church crimewave sweeps Britain

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The Independent Online
A CAMPAIGN to reduce the multi-million pound cost of vandalism, burglary and arson committed in churches every year will be launched today at Britain's first national conference on ecclesiastical crime.

Catholic, Anglican and Free Church officials will meet representatives from police forces in England and Wales to discuss ways of implementing "church watch" schemes run along the same lines as neighbourhood watch initiatives.

Places of worship are increasingly seen as a soft targets by thieves and vandals. Last year the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group (EIG), which is the main insurer of Church of England property, paid out pounds 4m in damages.

Nick Tolson, a former police officer who has organised the conference in Wells, Somerset, has calculated, on the basis of figures from six police forces, that as many as 25,000 recorded crimes are committed against the 17,000 Anglican churches in England and Wales each year. However, Mr Tolson believes that locking churches during the day is no solution.

He piloted a "church watch" scheme in the Bath and Wells diocese, in which churches alerted each other if an outbreak of vandalism or burglary took place at a place of worship. The number of crimes against the churches fell from 87 to 14 in a year.

"Most people think that if you keep a church open during the day an opportunist crime will occur," he said. "However, as long as you have frequent checks by locals, you lower the risk of crime. If you have something locked people think there is something worth stealing."

Mr Tolson wants to work more closely with the police to target professional criminals who travel the country stealing large items to order.

"Two brass lecterns are stolen from each of the 42 dioceses every year," he said. "Each one is worth pounds 30,000 to pounds 40,000. There are several theories, but one is that they are ordered by fascist groups in Europe, because the brass eagle is as much of a Nazi symbol as a Christian one."

A church worker has been arrested by detectives investigating the disappearance of pounds 25,000 from parish funds at a church in Hampshire.

The 48-year-old man has been released on police bail pending further inquiries into the missing money. The man, who has not been named, was arrested early last week after the deficit appeared in the accounts of Bishops Sutton Parochial Church Council.

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