Countryside Alliance raises alarm over increase in church crimes in Hertfordshire
An investigation into criminal activity at churches across Britain has revealed 232 incidents in Hertfordshire since 2017.
The probe took place after complaints to rural campaigning group Countryside Alliance from members concerned that nothing was being done to raise awareness of lead theft in rural areas.
In June, criminals stripped the entire roof of 13th-century, grade II listed St Mary the Virgin in Furneux Pelham, causing £225,000 damage.
After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to Hertfordshire police, the Countryside Alliance learned that churches in and around the county are not only being targeted for their lead – of which there were 22 recorded cases – but that there were also 99 general thefts in the past three years.
Churches in the county have been subject to 61 counts of criminal damage since 2017. There have also been 31 cases of violence against a person, including 19 sexual assaults.
In February, intruders struck at St Michael's Church in Windhill, Bishop's Stortford, smashing a stained glass window in the south porch, which dates from the 15th century, and causing extensive damage to an ancient door and two crucifixes after wrenching them from altars. Silver items were taken.
Across Britain, at least 20,168 crimes have been committed at churches and religious buildings, after 40 of 45 police forces responded to questions from the Countryside Alliance.
These include 2,490 cases of violence, 4,162 of criminal damage and 7,206 of thefts, of which 940 relate to lead theft. It works out at a rate of 19 crimes a day nationwide.
Jessie Dunn, of the Countryside Alliance, said: "These figures paint a bleak picture of criminal attacks on our churches and religious buildings in Hertfordshire and across the country as a whole.
"As a society, irrespective of faith or none, we need to be much more vigilant when it comes to watching over churches and places of worship by reporting suspicious activity.
"It serves as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote."